The Marriage of True Minds Part 1 (by Deborah)

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Series: Adam in the Outback (11 of 16)

Summary: This is the eleventh story in my “Adam in the Outback” series. Part 1 takes place during 1894 through 1896.

Rated: T  WC  49,000

Adam In The Outback Series:

My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 1
My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 2
My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 3
Family Reunion
Cartwright is the Name
A Son and Heir
The Country of the Heart
To Bloom in Another Man’s Garden – Part 1
To Bloom in Another Man’s Garden – Part 2
In Memoriam
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 1
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 2
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 3
The Joys of Parents
Grow Old Along with Me
The Best is Yet to Be

Not part of the Adam in the Outback Series, but set in the same realm:

The Adventure of the Gooseberry Pie Eating Bear
O’Tannenbaum

 As always, I want to thank Larkspur and Vickie Batzka for reading draft copies of this story. Their help is invaluable. Joan Sattler came through for me once again with some new Australian idioms (Their definition is provided at the end of the story.)

The Marriage of True Minds – #1

Chapter 1
The tall, bald, white-bearded man breathed in the clean sea breeze, looking at the vast expanse of blue water on every side, and thought how his life had changed since the last time he’d made the voyage to his native land. Adam Cartwright had lived in Queensland for the last twenty-four of his sixty-one years, and the last time he had sailed to the United States had been in 1894 to attend the graduation of his second daughter, Miranda, from the Girls’ Latin School in Boston. Now he was sailing to the U.S. to attend her graduation (summa cum laude) from Radcliffe, the sister college of his alma mater, Harvard.

He turned his head and looked at the lovely, dark-haired young woman standing at his left. Gwyneth, his third daughter, was twenty now; she’d been courted by several young men in her hometown of Cloncurry, Queensland, but now there were only two serious suitors. Douglas Campbell had been patiently wooing her for four years, hoping to win her heart away from her first love, Mark Pentreath. Mark was due to graduate from the Sydney Technical College in December, and then he would be returning to Cloncurry since Adam and his business partner and brother-in-law, Rhys Davies, had already offered him a job with Cartwright & Davies Mining Company. Gwyneth would finally have to decide which man she truly loved, which man she wished to marry. She seemed to sense her father’s regard and turned to smile at him-a dimpled smile identical to his own.

“Look, Dad! A dolphin!” the young boy on his right shouted, pointing excitedly, and Adam grinned at his son. Adam Stoddard Cartwright, Jr., or A.C. as he was known, was now ten. He was tall and skinny with thick, wavy black hair, large chocolate brown eyes and a spattering of freckles across his nose. He was a bright boy, but not particularly interested in his schoolwork. He’d rather be swimming, riding or playing cricket with his mates. However, he was the top student in his class for two reasons: He didn’t like disappointing his parents and he didn’t like being on the receiving end of one of his dad’s “necessary talks”.

For a moment, Adam’s thoughts turned to the third child who should have been with them. Penny would have been seventeen-having her first beaus walking her to and from church and taking her for evening strolls. In his mind’s eye he could picture her now: a younger version of her mother when he’d first met her-slender and dainty with enormous violet eyes dominating her heart-shaped face. He felt his own eyes began to fill with tears and savagely forced his thoughts in another direction. Instead he thought of Penny on her second voyage to the United States. She’d been eight then but looked more like six. Just like her brother she was fascinated by the dolphins she’d spotted and she’d been ecstatic when she spotted a humpback breaching the surface of the ocean and then falling back with an enormous splash.

He glanced quickly at his wife, Bronwen, who was standing on the other side of A.C. and for a moment their eyes met and he knew she had also been thinking of Penny. They shared a poignant smile and they both thought of all the changes that had taken place the past four years. The two most important ones were their grandchildren: three-year-old Elen Penelope and fourteen-month-old Huw Adda, named for his grandfathers. It was hard to believe three and a half years had passed since Elen entered their lives. . . .

~ ~ ~

Adam gazed tenderly at the tiny baby in his son-in-law’s arms, feeling such awe and wonder. It seemed only yesterday he had been holding his own first-born and now he was looking at her beautiful, perfect daughter.

“We want to name her Elen Penelope,” Beth said quietly and he felt the saltiness of his tears burn his eyes as he said in voice that was just a little unsteady, “Penny would be so pleased.”

“Would you like to hold her, Tada?” his son-in-law asked tearing his eyes from his baby daughter while his countenance reflected the same joy Adam remembered he had experienced when he’d held Beth in his arms for the first time.

“Very much,” he replied and held out his arms. Dafydd carefully passed his precious bundle to her maternal grandfather, who immediately began the gentle rocking motion he had used with his own babies. “You’re a beautiful little girl, Elen,” he said softly, “just like your mother.”

“I think she favors Dafydd,” Beth said fondly, “except she has Mama’s eyes.” Left unspoken was the thought in all their minds, And Penny’s.

“Well, I hope you’re wrong. I hope she looks just like you, cariad,” Dafydd said with a smile. “Girls should take after their mothers.” He stopped, stricken, remembering that Penny had been the image of her mother.

Bronwen only said with a smile, “Perhaps, but they don’t always. Look at Gwyneth.” They all shared a smile then and she continued, “My granddaughter is a beautiful baby no matter whom she takes after.”

“Will you listen to your mother,” Adam said teasingly. “Her granddaughter. Her daughters and her son are perfect. It’s only my daughters and my son that are naughty.” Beth giggled at that but then little Elen began to wave her fists and wail.

“Elen fach is hungry,” Bronwen said. “Your father and I will give the three of you some privacy now but I’ll be back in the morning to fix breakfast for you, Beth. Dafydd, it would be easiest if you could have your meals at our house until Beth is up to cooking for you. That is if you don’t mind?”

“Of course not, Mam,” Dafydd assured her as his in-laws prepared to depart.

The rain was still pouring but it was a hot evening, typical of early November. Bronwen had arrived at the parsonage that morning in Dafydd’s buggy while Adam had ridden his chestnut gelding, Mercury, straight from the mine. They were in a hurry to share the news about Elen’s birth with their younger children, so they rode home together on Mercury. They were thoroughly soaked by the time they arrived at their stable, but their two younger children, who had been watching for them on the verandah, came running toward the stable heedless of the rain.

“Is Beth all right?” Gwyneth called while her little brother shouted, “Is the baby born? What’s his name?”

“Your sister is fine,” Bronwen said with a smile as her children approached and Adam added with a grin, “And so is your niece, Elen Penelope.”

“They named her for Penny,” Gwyneth said and her parents saw her eyes pool with tears behind her spectacles.

“It’s a girl,” A.C. said and disappointment was written all over his countenance. “I wanted a nephew.”

“I’m just happy the baby is healthy and your sister is all right,” his father replied.

“Oh!” Gwyneth said, her hands going to her mouth. “I forgot. Uncle Rhys, Aunt Matilda and Llywelyn are at the house waiting to hear about Beth and the baby.”

“I’m surprised Llywelyn didn’t run out in the rain with you,” Bronwen said as she looked at the four of them, soaked to the skin.

“He wanted to, but Aunt Tilda wouldn’t let him,” A.C. confided. Just then their little terrier, Lady, came dashing up barking hysterically.

“And now we have a wet dog as well,” Adam sighed. “There’s nothing quite like the smell of wet dog,” he added as Gwyneth picked Lady up and let her lick her face enthusiastically.

“Matilda will cark it when she sees us,” Bronwen said with a giggle. “Let’s all help Daddy with Mercury and then we’ll make a dash for the house.”

Matilda was indeed aghast when the four Cartwrights ran up the steps to the verandah, dripping wet, but her husband and son just grinned.

“You can congratulate us,” Adam said. “We have a beautiful granddaughter, Elen Penelope. She has Bronwen’s eyes, but she’s going to take after her daddy.”

“That’s wonderful,” Matilda said while Rhys thumped his brother-in-law and friend on the back saying, “Congratulations.”

“How’s it feel to be an aunt and uncle,” Llywelyn asked his cousins with a grin.

“I don’t really know,” Gwyneth replied honestly.

“I wanna see the baby,” A.C. exclaimed. “When do I get to see her?”

“Tomorrow morning before you go to school, you and Gwyneth can come for a brief visit. And you must be quiet, A.C. bach. Babies need to sleep most of the time.”

“Why?” he asked scrunching his face in puzzlement.

“It helps them grow,” his mama replied

“Did I sleep a lot?” he inquired.

“Yes, you did,” his older sister said with a smile. “You slept through thunderstorms.”

“While the tiniest sound, like someone walking into the room, would wake you up,” Adam interjected. “When I complained about it to Grandpa in a letter, he wrote back that it was only just since I had been the same way when I was a baby.”

“Could I come with you when you visit Beth?” Matilda asked. She’d always wanted a daughter but she’d had a miscarriage before Llywelyn, and he was five before she’d finally conceived again, only to give birth to a stillborn girl. She had never become pregnant again. Since she had no daughters of her own, she’d grown very close to her nieces, particularly Beth and Penny since they had both enjoyed pretty clothes and sewing as much as she did.

“Of course,” Bronwen replied. “Beth will be stoked to see you and skite about her little girl.”

“Then maybe Llywelyn and I can come for a visit after supper,” Rhys suggested and Bronwen nodded. The Davies then said goodbye and, opening their umbrellas, they ran next-door to their house.

“I’m starved,” Adam announced. “I haven’t had anything to eat since noon.”

“Neither have I,” Bronwen admitted.

“We had Cornish pasties,” Gwyneth replied. “I tried out the recipe Mark’s mother gave me.”

“They were good, too,” A.C. added. “I wanted two but Gwyneth said I had to save some for you.”

“I’m glad one of our children was thinking of us,” Adam said ruffling his son’s wet hair. “We all need to get into some dry clothes and then your mama and I can eat.

A short time later, they gathered in the dining room in dry clothes and the two women wore their hair down so it would dry faster. A.C. stared at them. “Stone the crows! You sure have long hair,” he exclaimed. Gwyneth’s hair was thick and curly so it came just below her hips while her mother’s was straight and fine and fell nearly to her knees.

“It’s never been cut; that’s why it’s so long,” his sister replied.

“Never?” A.C. asked in surprise.

“Women usually don’t cut their hair,” his mama answered, “though I know your sister was tempted to on at least one occasion”. Bronwen’s eyes twinkled as she remembered her husband’s description of the not-quite-fifteen-year old Gwyneth’s bold declaration that her hair was too unruly to handle and she was going to take the scissors to it after she’d been caught swearing at it and been threatened with having her mouth washed out with soap.

Adam, not wishing to relive that tempestuous scene, hastily interjected, “I’m hungry. Where is this pasty I was promised?”

“Here they are,” Gwyneth said, getting the platter off the top of the china cabinet. At her father’s raised eyebrow she explained, “I had to put them where A.C. couldn’t reach them,” and her little brother stuck out his tongue at her.

“This is delicious, Gwyneth,” Bronwen stated after swallowing a mouthful of the meat pastry.

“Yes, it is,” Adam added upon his first bite of the flakey crust and savory filling.

“It’s Mrs. Pentreath’s recipe,” Gwyneth said modestly. “If they turned out well, then I thought I’d make some to take with us Sunday afternoon when we go fishing.”

“I certainly vote in favor of the idea,” Adam said with a grin.

“And I expect the pasties are Mark’s favorites, hmm?” Bronwen added, eyeing her daughter speculatively.

“His mother did say they were one of his favorites,” Gwyneth replied, a faint blush on her cheeks as she avoided her mother’s eyes. “These are beef but she told me how to make lamb and chicken. The chicken has fried mushrooms as well as the potato and onion.”

“These are certainly delicious,” her father commented, “but if Mrs. Campbell gives you a recipe for haggis because it’s one of Douglas’ favorites, I’ll pass.”

“Haggis?” A.C. repeated.

“It’s a food Scots enjoy. It involves a sheep’s stomach,” Adam replied.

“Yuk!” A.C. said making a gagging noise.

“A.C.,” his mama said reprovingly and then she frowned at her husband. “You could set a better example.” Adam only grinned before asking, “Would either of you ladies like to play some chess?”

“I’ve got a history test tomorrow and I need to study,” Gwyneth replied while Bronwen exclaimed, “We haven’t told Nell and Mary about the baby! I must do that and then talk with them about fixing your meals for the next week since I’ll be spending most of my time at the parsonage.” She paused, then added with a devilish glint in her eye, “with my new granddaughter.”

Adam rolled his eyes in mock annoyance and turned to his young son, “Would you like to play a game, Jackeroo?”

“Okay, Daddy. Can we play my Christmas Goose game?”

“Right,” Adam replied with a matching grin.

That night when Adam and Bronwen were in their bedroom after the children were asleep, she started to braid her now dry hair. He stopped unbuttoning his shirt and said quietly, “Don’t braid it. You’re even lovelier with your hair down.” He winked suggestively. “Especially when it’s the only thing covering you.”

“What you’re suggesting is hardly proper behavior for a grandma and grandpa,” she replied teasingly, though she did as he requested.

“I assure you I intend to be a most improper grandpa,” he replied, swooping her up in his arms and carrying her to their bed.

A.C. woke before the sun was up the next morning. There was a full moon which gently illuminated his bedroom and he dressed hurriedly by its light. He crept quietly down the backstairs and out the backdoor so he could feed the surprised and sleepy chickens and feed and water an equally surprised Sport. Mercury, Gwyneth’s Artemis and Olwen, his mother’s Welsh cob, all neighed as if to ask why their humans weren’t feeding them. Buttercup, their milk cow, mooed loudly to remind everyone that she needed to be milked. His chores done, A.C. scurried into the kitchen to eat a slice of bread and drink a glass of milk before hurrying to the parsonage to see his brand-new niece. The kitchen had been empty and dark when he left to do his chores, but now Nell and Mary were up and beginning their day.

“Stone the crows! Master A.C., what are you doing up at this hour?” Nell asked astonishment written all over her features since A.C. had never been up before his father and sister, who were the early risers of the family.

“I done my chores and now I’m gonna eat breakfast and go see Elen,” he announced.

The two women exchanged amused glances over his head.

“Reverend Jones, Miss Beth and little Miss Elen are asleep now,” Mary said grinning at him.

“Mama said I could go see Elen before I went to school,” the little boy asserted.

“She didn’t mean at daybreak,” Nell assured him with a laugh.

A.C. scowled at them both. “She didn’t say I couldn’t go then.”

“Only because it never occurred to me that you’d plan to go this early.” Bronwen’s voice came from the doorway. A.C. whirled around and saw his parents and big sister standing in the doorway grinning at him.

“It’s too early to visit, Jackeroo,” his father confirmed while Gwyneth shook her head and said, “Drongo,” earning a reproving stare from both parents.

“I’m going to fix Beth’s breakfast, so give me a goodbye kiss,” Bronwen said bending over to kiss his cheek. She thought with a sigh how fast her baby was growing up. Not quite seven yet but already as tall as some eight or even nine-year-olds.

“Can I come with you?” he asked eagerly.

“I’m sorry, bachgennyn, but Mama is going to be too busy taking care of Beth and helping her care for Elen. Daddy will bring you and Gwyneth over after you’ve eaten your breakfast. Dafydd is going to be eating breakfast with all of you, too.” She and Adam exchanged a quick kiss and then she hurried out the door.

“Since you’ve done all your chores, would you like to learn how to milk Buttercup?” Adam asked.

“Right,” the little boy replied, but with less than his usual enthusiasm. However, once his daddy demonstrated the technique and let him try, his normal exuberance returned. Adam promised he could milk on his own that evening. (Buttercup did not share A.C.’s delight but she was a longsuffering bovine.)

By the time the three had finished their chores and changed clothes, Dafydd was knocking at the front door.

“Come in, come in,” Adam said with a broad smile, taking in his son-in-law’s bleary eyes. “You don’t look like you got much sleep. Did Elen wake you?”

“No,” Dafydd replied stifling a yawn. “She slept just fine. It was Beth who woke up at three a.m. thinking the baby must be hungry, and then she woke Elen up to feed her.”

Adam laughed out loud at that while Gwyneth dimpled and A.C. just looked puzzled.

“I thought babies needed to sleep a lot,” he commented.

“They do, but they also need to eat a lot. That’s pretty much all babies do for the first month or two: eat and sleep,” his daddy replied.

“And dirty their nappies,” Gwyneth added wrinkling her nose. “I remember watching Mama change yours.”

“Why can’t we eat breakfast with Elen?” A.C. asked (after sticking out his tongue at his sister behind his daddy’s back).

“Elen doesn’t eat food like we do,” his daddy said patiently. “She drinks milk.”

“I drink milk,” A.C. replied not understanding.

“Not milk from a cow; milk from Beth,” his older sister retorted smugly.

“Milk from Beth?”

Adam sighed, and giving Gwyneth a look of displeasure for her ill-timed response, he then said to his daughter and son-in-law, “Why don’t you go on and start without us.” The other two left with alacrity. They were halfway through their meal when Adam and A.C. entered the room. As soon as he saw his sister, A.C. said speculatively, “You mean when Gwyneth gets married and has babies, she’ll make milk just like Buttercup?”

Gwyneth flushed scarlet while Dafydd, who’d just taken a sip of tea, sprayed it across his plate.

“Jackeroo, it’s not polite to compare your sister to a cow,” Adam replied as Dafydd tried to mop up tea with his napkin while Gwyneth glared at her brother. “But, yes, when Gwyneth marries and has children, her body will produce milk for them just as Beth’s is now.”

A.C. nodded, but then he looked puzzled again. “Grandpa told me that Grandma died when you was a little baby, so how did you eat?”

Adam answered seriously, “A friend of your grandma’s-“

“Mrs. Baldwin,” Gwyneth interjected yet again but Adam raised his eyebrow, which caused her to immediately refocus her attentions on her breakfast.

“Mrs. Baldwin had a baby girl and she offered to feed me as well as her own baby. Now, we have to hurry and eat so you’ll have time to see Elen before you need to go to school.”

Even though he ate quickly, A.C. still managed to consume two scones, liberally covered with Bronwen’s homemade orange marmalade, a good-sized helping of scrambled eggs, and a glass of milk. Dafydd shook his head and marveled at the amount of food his little brother-in-law could eat and still be so skinny. Just as Adam and A.C. were finishing, Matilda arrived.

“G’day, Aunt Tilda,” A.C. greeted her. “Did you make milk for Llywelyn when he was a baby?”

Matilda turned a fiery red and sputtered while Dafydd tried to turn his laugh into a cough and Gwyneth rolled her eyes. Adam said sternly, “Adam Stoddard Cartwright, Jr., you are not to ask any more women if they made milk or if they will make milk for babies. Do you understand?”

“Why, Daddy?”

“Because it is not polite. And that is all you need to know,” he added decisively, effectively preventing further discussion of the subject on the part of his youngest child.

Since the parsonage was only a short distance away, they all walked together. As soon as he could see the building, A.C. sprinted ahead. Adam started to call him back, but thought better of it. Bronwen had been watching for them and was at the door to greet A.C. before he had a chance to pound on it.

“You’re going to have to be very quiet, A.C. Elen and Beth are both asleep,” Bronwen said softly.

“You mean,” and seeing his mama put her finger on her lips he moderated his volume, “I can’t see Elen?’

“You can tiptoe into the bedroom and look at her sleeping in her cradle.”

“I wanted to hold her,” A.C. whined just as the others joined him on the verandah.

“You’ll have plenty of chances to hold her later on,” Bronwen said reassuringly. She turned to her son-in-law. “Dafydd, why don’t you take Gwyneth and A.C. up to your bedroom so they can look at Elen. Beth is asleep as well so I told A.C. he must be very quiet.”

“I guess I’ll come back this evening with Rhys and Llywelyn,” Adam decided. “I’ll see you then, sweetheart.” He kissed Bronwen quickly and left. “Matilda, I thought you and I could visit until Beth and the baby wake up,” Bronwen suggested.

“That would be lovely,” Matilda agreed and so they went to the parlor.

A.C. started to make a comment when he saw the baby but Gwyneth and Dafydd both put their fingers to their lips so he held his tongue until they joined the two older women. “Elen’s all red and squished,” he commented and saw his mama’s face looked almost like she was going to cry.

“I’m sorry, Mama. I take it back,” he said hurriedly.

“No, it’s all right,” Bronwen said blinking back her tears. “It’s just that Penny said the same thing about you when you were born.”

“Fair dinkum?” and she nodded before adding, “All babies look that way when they’re newborn. In a day or two Elen won’t look so red.” She smiled at her son-in-law and then said to her children, “You two had better hurry so you aren’t late. Don’t forget to stop and get the mail, Gwyneth.”

“I won’t. There might be a letter from Miranda. Her debut ball was about a month ago so we should be hearing from her about that.”

The minute Adam and Mercury approached the Cartwright house that night, A.C. ran to meet them yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! We got a letter from Manda!”

Adam pulled back on the reins and leaned over to pat Mercury’s neck. “That’s good news, Jackeroo. We’ll take the letter with us and read it so Beth can hear as well.”

“I get to see Elen again?”

“Right. Elen may still be sleeping but Beth will probably be awake and I know she’ll want to see you and Gwyneth. Do you want to help me with Mercury?” At his son’s nod, Adam reached a hand down and helped the boy mount behind him. When they reached the stable, they found Gwyneth there currying Artemis. When the three of them finished caring for the horses, they walked back to the house and discovered Dafydd waiting to eat supper with them.

When the meal was over, A.C. turned to his daddy eagerly. “Can we go now, Daddy?”

“May we go, and no, not until your Uncle Rhys and Llywelyn arrive.”

A.C. began to pout but before he tried his daddy’s patience too much, the Davies knocked on the door and soon they were on their way. Bronwen greeted them on the verandah with a warm smile. “Beth just finished feeding Elen so they are waiting to see all of you.”

“We got a letter from Manda and we brought it with us so everyone can hear it,” A.C. announced happily.

“I hope she’s writing to tell us all about her debut ball,” Bronwen said.

“You mean a ball like the one Cinderella went to?” her son asked.

“Yes. In Boston, when a young woman is old enough to begin keeping company with young men, her family hosts a ball to introduce her to society. The Aldens are hosting a ball for Charlotte and Miranda to introduce them to eligible young men.”

“She wrote me about her ball gown in her last letter,” Gwyneth added. “It’s pale green satin, off-the-shoulder with puff sleeves and she’ll be wearing elbow-length gloves dyed to match her dress. The gown has a little décolletage so she’s going to wear the pearl necklace she got her for her eighteenth birthday.”

Bronwen saw A.C. roll his eyes impatiently, and also caught the discomfiture on Adam’s face when Gwyneth mentioned the ball gown’s slightly low cut bodice, so she hurried them up to the bedroom where Beth cradled Elen.

“She doesn’t look so red now,” A.C. observed, unknowingly echoing his Uncle Joe’s comments about Beth the second time he saw her.

“Of course not,” Beth answered tartly, more than a little hurt that her brother would think his niece less than perfect. “Elen is a beautiful baby.”

“A.C. made the same observation about Elen that Penny did about him,” Bronwen said gently, hoping to soothe Beth and remind her of her brother’s artlessness at the same time.

“That’s right. I remember. She wanted to trade you for a baby that wasn’t so red and squished,” Beth said with a grin at her baby brother while her parents shared a smile tinged with sadness.

“Penny didn’t want me?” the little boy asked and his chin began to wobble.

“No, that wasn’t what she meant,” Beth hastened to assure him, for she hadn’t meant to hurt him. “She was just surprised at the way you looked, just like you were when you saw Elen.”

“Penny loved you very much,” Adam said gently, giving his son’s shoulder a squeeze and A.C. looked up at him and smiled.

“Could I hold Elen?” Gwyneth asked quietly and her sister smiled her consent. A.C. watched his sister carefully place her hand under the baby’s head as she picked her up in her arms.

“Hello, Elen. I’m your Aunt Gwyneth.” She turned and looked at her brother-in-law. “She really does look like you, Dafydd.”

Rhys and Llywelyn both moved closer to get a better look at the family’s newest member and with a broad grin Rhys said, “She surely does.”

A.C. moved closer to his big sister and asked, “Can I hold her?”

Beth looked desperately at her mother who said with gentle firmness, “You may hold Elen when she’s a bit older, A.C. bach.”

“Gwyneth gets to hold her,” A.C. whined.

“And Gwyneth is almost grown up,” Adam replied. “I was about your age when Uncle Hoss was born and I didn’t get to hold him for a couple of months,” he added though the memory was bittersweet, for the first time he’d held Hoss was when Mama had placed his baby brother in his arms just before her death.

“A couple of months!” A.C. said loudly causing the baby to wail so Beth took her back and comforted her while Adam told his son firmly, “You mustn’t talk loudly around the baby.”

“I didn’t mean to make her cry.”

“I know you didn’t,” Bronwen said, “but newborn babies are very delicate. That’s why we want you to wait until she’s older before you hold her. I know you wouldn’t want to accidentally hurt her.”

“No,” the child replied in a whisper his eyes very round.

“Tell you what, A.C.,” Llywelyn said. “I won’t hold her until you can. That way you won’t be the only one,” and the adults all smiled at him although part of the reason he made the offer was his own nervousness at the thought of holding such a tiny baby.

Little Elen quieted quickly in her mother’s arms and fell asleep so Bronwen suggested they all go downstairs to the parlor to hear Adam read Miranda’s letter. Beth placed Elen in the cradle Adam had made her and the doting grandfather carried the cradle and its precious cargo down the stairs, while Dafydd carried his wife in his strong arms. The parsonage’s parlor had a large horsehair sofa and several armchairs so they all made themselves comfortable while Adam put on his reading glasses and opened the letter.

October 19, 1894

Dear Family,

By the time you receive this I may already be an aunt; I am anxiously awaiting the letter informing me of the birth of my nephew or niece.

You made me promise to tell you all about my debutante ball, and it was held the night before last. The Aldens’ home was magnificently decorated, the ladies were dressed in exquisitely beautiful ball gowns in a rainbow of colours and the men were all attired in black dress coats, white shirts with high starched collars and black bow ties. Most of the conversation was vapid but I did meet one interesting man. His name is Christopher Burton and he just recently moved to Boston. His family is from St. Louis and they made their money in real estate and investments. (Mrs. Alden told me afterward that the Burtons are well-known philanthropists.) Mr. Burton is in his early thirties; he is very handsome with dark hair and eyes and I’d say he’s about the same height and build as Daddy. He is a wonderful dancer and I felt like I was floating when we waltzed. He is also an excellent conversationalist and was very interested to learn I am attending Radcliffe since he believes strongly in higher education for women. He asked me to attend the symphony with him next week and I accepted.

Charlotte has been attending soirees and cotillions nearly every day, but I of course have no time (nor inclination) for that and plan to limit myself to two social engagements each week. I’m afraid I’m a great disappointment to Mrs. Alden, since she would like me to accompany Charlotte to the various affairs and was hoping I would take to the social life more completely. I’m enjoying my classes very much, particularly analytic geometry. Natural history is also very interesting and knowing I’m from Queensland the professor has asked me about some of our indigenous animals. In addition to Emily, I’ve made two new friends at the college. Samantha Overton is from Rochester, New York, and Sylvia Hopkins is from Terre Haute, Indiana. We are all taking natural history and Sylvia and I have the same Greek class. It’s been interesting meeting young women from outside New England.

Well, I must stop now so I’ll make the morning post. If the baby has already arrived, please give him or her a kiss from me.

With love to you all,
Miranda

“I’m not sure I approve of her seeing a man in his thirties,” Adam said with more than a touch of worry in his tone. “She is barely nineteen.”

“She’s also a level-headed and intelligent young woman,” Rhys replied. “You have to trust her judgment.”

“Excellent advice,” Adam said with a sardonic grin. “I’ll quote it back to you after this young man,” and he nodded at Llywelyn, “is living on his own in Sydney.” Rhys grimaced slightly as his son reddened under the scrutiny.

“Poor William,” Gwyneth interjected, remembering her sister’s fondness for the other young man, which had not been disclosed to their parents.

“I thought they were just friends,” Adam commented and he did not fail to observe the significant glance his daughters shared.

“You’re right, Daddy,” Beth replied a little too quickly causing her father’s eyes to narrow speculatively.

That night when he got into bed beside Bronwen he said, “Were things serious between Miranda and this William?”

“She hasn’t confided in me,” Bronwen replied laying her head on his chest as he placed his arm around her. “I suspect she’s been more candid with her sisters.” She sighed gently as Adam murmured his agreement. “From everything she’s written, I think we would both like William. I confess I, too, am a little concerned about her seeing a handsome, sophisticated older man. I pray he is not the type of man to take advantage of an innocent young woman.” Sensing his displeasure, she said hurriedly, “I’m being foolish. Rhys is right. Miranda is the most sensible and level-headed of our girls. She won’t be blinded by a sophisticated veneer.” Adam did not reply, though his wife could feel the tension in his arms as he held her to him. Both were alone with their thoughts as the minutes slowly ticked by and they drifted to sleep.

After several days of monsoon rains, the sky on Sunday was clear (and the temperature was over 105 degrees), so the Cartwrights and Davies planned to go fishing after church. Gwyneth had gotten up early to make beef and chicken pasties to take and Bronwen had made a batch of Adam’s favorite gingersnaps, which coincidentally were also A.C.’s favorite, the night before.

They were all seated in their family’s pew and the service was almost ready to begin when Beth slipped into the church, carrying Elen. Gwyneth slid over with a smile and Beth sat down gratefully, for it had taken all her strength and more time than usual to prepare for church that morning. A moment later Dafydd walked in and everyone could see his eyes immediately sought his wife in her accustomed place and the loving smile they shared before he began the service. Bronwen reached for Adam’s hand as they observed the little ritual between their daughter and her husband and the happiness that was evident on both their faces.

Afterward, all the women gathered around Beth and little Elen, who had slept soundly throughout her daddy’s sermon. Gwyneth frowned as she heard one woman say to another as they walked away, “It’s a pity she takes after her father rather than her mother.” However, her thoughts were distracted by Mark and Douglas, who both approached her while exchanging cold, barely polite glances with each other.

“Is your family going fishing?” Mark asked before Douglas could open his mouth.

“I think Mama intends to stay with Beth but Daddy, A.C. and I are planning on going fishing right after we go home and change. I made Cornish pasties and there’s plenty to share.”

“If you made them, I’m sure they’re delicious,” Douglas said earnestly.

Neither young man had noticed Adam’s approach and both started when he said genially, “We’ll see you both at the river.” He put his hand on his daughter’s arm and firmly guided her away from her admirers.

“Can we go swimming after we fish?” A.C. queried as the three of them walked back home.

“Yes, we may,” Adam replied with a grin.

As always, he and A.C. finished changing long before Gwyneth appeared, attired in a plain cotton blouse, full knickerbockers that fastened just below the knee (accenting her shapely legs) and brown oxfords. She let her hair hang down her back in a single fat plait and wore a straw boater as protection from the sun.

When they rode up to their fishing spot, Mark and Douglas were already there and Adam’s lips curved up in a half smile at the obvious coldness between the two. If they were a pair of stallions they’d be fighting over her, he thought to himself in amusement. The amusement faded quickly when he remembered that like a pair of stallions, the two young men were rivals for the chance to eventually mate with his daughter.

“I’m hungry,” A.C. announced distracting his father from his most unwelcome thoughts. “Let’s eat first.”

“I’m looking forward to eating Gwyneth’s pasties so I vote in favor of eating first,” Douglas said before his rival had a chance to speak.

“Yes, dinner has my vote,” Mark added, glaring at Douglas. Both young men praised the pasties to the skies causing Gwyneth to blush and her little brother to roll his eyes at their inexplicable behavior. As he finished the last bite of his pasty he looked at Douglas speculatively. “Do you like to eat haggis?” Adam quickly moved his cup of lemonade to his lips to stop himself from laughing aloud.

“I’ve never eaten it,” Douglas replied surprise plainly written on his blunt features. “I’ve heard of it but I’ve no desire to try it.” He smiled at Gwyneth. “I’m ready to fish, and I’ll be happy to bait your hook for you.” Mark frowned at the other young man’s quick thinking, for he’d intended to perform that service for her.

Gwyneth looked from one to the other and shrugged. “Thanks, Douglas.” She made to stand and both young men immediately leapt to their feet to help her and then accompanied her to the river bank.

“How come Mark and Douglas always want to follow Gwyneth around?” A.C. asked his father as he watched them sit on either side of his sister.

“Because they’re young men and men like to be around women,” Adam replied with a little grin.

“I never will,” A.C. said resolutely. His father grinned more broadly and tipping down his son’s straw sailor hat said, “Never say never, Jackeroo. C’mon, or those three will catch all the fish.”

Gwyneth and her two beaus were serious anglers but A.C. grew bored since the fish didn’t seem to be biting. Every time he started to talk, they all three glared at him, which amused his father no end. Finally the boy could stand it no longer. He put his fishing pole on the bank beside him and whispered loudly, “Can, I mean, may, I go swimming now, Daddy? Please?”

Adam hesitated because if he went swimming with A.C. that would leave Gwyneth and her beaus unchaperoned. He grinned when he suddenly realized the two rivals would serve as wonderful chaperones since neither would let the other take any liberties.

“I’m not having any luck either, so I might as well go swimming. Do you three want to join us?”

“In a little bit,” Gwyneth replied. Then she turned to Mark and Douglas, “Did you bring your bathing costumes?”

They both nodded, their interest in fishing evaporating at the thought of seeing Gwyneth in her bathing costume, for it plainly revealed her long slender legs and emphasized her tiny waist and gently rounded buttocks.

“We’re not really having any luck either,” Mark commented casually. “Maybe we should all go swimming.”

“Too right!” Douglas quickly agreed.

Gwyneth hesitated and then nodded. She jumped up and ran to get her bathing costume from her saddlebags and the four males retrieved theirs. A.C. changed quickly and refused to wait for his sister so Adam dove into the river with him. He glanced toward the riverbank in time to see Gwyneth make her appearance and observed how the two young men-one tall and burly and the other more slender but still with a muscular build-couldn’t take their eyes off his daughter’s slim, graceful form.

“C’mon, I’ll race you,” she called, running past her love-smitten swains rather like Atalanta her father thought with a grin.

* ~ * ~ *

It was a frigid late December afternoon in northern Nevada. It had been a bleak Christmas on the Ponderosa, for Ben and Joe were alone. For the first time in years Ben hadn’t awakened to excited voices discovering the bounty of gifts under the tree. Joe hadn’t really wanted to bother with the Christmas tree but thought it might cheer up his father. Two weeks earlier there’d been a severe snowstorm that dropped over a foot of snow, and this was the first chance anyone on the Ponderosa had to go into town and collect the mail. Joe was seated at his father’s desk working on the books while Ben was dozing in his favorite leather chair by the enormous fireplace when Jacob, one of the ranch hands, walked inside quickly shutting the door behind him.

“‘Scuse me, Joe, but I’ve got the mail,” he announced in his mellifluent baritone.

Ben’s eyes blinked open at the sound of Jacob’s voice and he smiled at the tall black cowboy. “I’ll take it, Jacob. Thanks.”

“Sure, Mr. Ben.” Jacob returned the smile. He handed the elderly man the large pile of letters and headed out the front door.

Joe looked up from his ledgers and saw his father’s face light up as he glanced through the letters. Ben smiled warmly saying, “We have letters from Boston and Queensland. Shall I read the letters from Boston first?”

“Please,” Joe replied and he dropped his pen and walked over to sit on the settee by Pa as he opened the first letter.

December 1, 1894

Dear Daddy and Grandpa,

I miss you very much. I wish I could come home. It snowed yesterday and I wanted to build a snowman, but Mama said it wasn’t what a proper young lady would do. Cousin Miranda came for a visit and we went to the Common and built a snowman there. She said it was our secret. She told me a story about how Daddy and Uncle Adam and Uncle Hoss used to build snowmen and have snowball fights every winter. I asked her if she built snowmen with Beth and Gwyneth and Penny, but she said it doesn’t snow in Queensland. I thought she was funning me, but she crossed her heart and hoped to die it was true.

Miranda asked Benj to come with us, but ever since he started going to school here in Boston, he doesn’t want anything to do with girls. I think Mama was going to make him come with us, but Miranda told her it was all right. I like it when Miranda comes to visit me because we talk about you and about her family. She said she misses her family, too, and we Cartwrights always stick together.

Love,
Sarah

“I miss her so much,” Joe said, his voice unsteady while he blinked back the tears beginning to pool in his green eyes. “It was so hard to leave Boston and I won’t be able to visit again until this summer.”

“You could go this spring. Bronc can handle the branding and the spring roundup. He’s a capable man and trustworthy,” Ben suggested.

“I do trust him, Pa, but he’s not a Cartwright.”

Ben sighed. He didn’t understand his son sometimes. If he’d ever had to make the same choice, he’d have left the Ponderosa in Bronc’s capable hands and boarded the train to Boston. “There are letters from Benj and Miranda so I’ll read Benj’s next, but then I think I’ll read Adam’s before Miranda’s because it might have news about Beth.”

December 1, 1894

Dear Dad and Grandpa,

How are you? I am well. Some of the ponds here are frozen so I’ve been ice skating with my friends. I am doing very well at school and enjoying my lessons.

Benj

Joe said with a sigh, “I think he’s still angry that I had to come back here for the fall roundup before we had a chance to go to Martha’s Vineyard. It was awfully nice of Adam’s friend to offer to let me take the children there for a weekend and stay at their cottage.”

“He’ll get over it, son,” Ben said, hoping the words were true, for Benj was a sensitive and moody child who, unfortunately, did tend to dwell on his grievances, real or imaginary. At times he reminded Ben of his Uncle Adam at the same age; however, Benj lacked his uncle’s cheekiness and his sense of humor. He was truly his mother’s son.

Ben missed his grandchildren terribly, and letters were a poor substitute. He’d been surprised at Annabelle’s meanness in refusing to allow Benj and Sarah to visit the Ponderosa, for her behavior was uncharacteristic. He hadn’t wanted to discuss it with Joe, but mentioned his bewilderment in a letter to Miranda, wondering if she had any opinions. She had written back that she believed Mr. Alden was responsible. Just from some remarks he’s made, I don’t think he cares much for Uncle Joe, and he has a lot of influence over Aunt Annabelle. Mrs. Alden and Charlotte are just as sweet and kind to me as ever but I intend to ask Daddy and Mama to let me stay at one of the college boarding houses next year.

“Let’s hear what Adam has to say. I hope he’s writing to tell us that he’s a grandpa,” Joe said with what his father knew was a forced grin.

November 11, 1894

Dear Pa and Joe,

Congratulations! You are now a great-grandpa and a great-uncle. Elen Penelope Jones arrived tonight at approximately 7:35 p.m. during the midst of a monsoon. A.C. was hoping she’d arrive on Miranda’s and my birthday and that she’d be a boy, so he was disappointed on two counts. He got over it quickly and can hardly wait to see his niece. She is a beautiful little girl with her grandma’s eyes, but otherwise everyone agrees that she favors Dafydd.

My Beth is quite the little mother. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because she always loved to be the mama to her dolls.

Reading those words, Ben thought sadly, Just like her baby sister. I know Penny would have been a wonderful mother, too. However, he forced his thoughts back to his son’s letter.

I don’t have any additional news. We are all well. I could mention that Mark has been spending a good deal of time here since he will be leaving for Sydney in a little less than two months and he won’t see Gwyneth for four years. (Douglas is looking forward to his departure. Frank seems to have given up on Gwyneth although that may change once Mark is in Sydney.) Mark has asked for permission to write Gwyneth and of course I’ve given it. Poor Matilda is having a difficult time dealing with the fact she won’t see Llywelyn for four years. In fact, I firmly expect she and Rhys will be making the trip to Sydney at least once a year.

Bronwen has just reminded me that I mustn’t forget to send her love. I won’t be seeing much of her for the next two weeks because she’ll be spending most of her time with Beth and Elen. Nell and Mary will be cooking our meals while Bronwen will prepare Beth’s. Dafydd is going to be joining A.C., Gwyneth and me for meals until Beth feels up to handling her household.

I’ll close for now. The next time I write I hope to include a photograph of Elen.

Affectionately yours,
Adam

“Grandpa Adam,” Joe said with his old infectious giggle.

“The birth of the first Cartwright of a new generation, although technically she’s a Jones,” Ben added, an enormous grin on his face. “I’m looking forward to that photograph.” His expression grew more serious as he added, “Now that we know Elen’s name, we need to get her christening mug engraved and on its way to Queensland.”

“I’ll take it into town myself tomorrow,” Joe promised. “You know, with a mother as beautiful as Beth, it’s sure a shame little Elen takes after her father,” he said slowly.

“Dafydd is not ill-favored,” Ben said but Joe only replied, “No, he’s not but you know what I mean,” and Ben nodded reluctantly.

“Let’s hear what Miranda has to say,” Ben suggested and carefully opened her letter.

December 13, 1894

Dear Grandpa and Uncle Joe,

I know by now you’ve received word from Daddy about the birth of Beth’s baby. I so hope Beth will have a little girl because she wants one so much. I, on the other hand, am in no hurry whatsoever to assume the roles of wife and mother. I am enjoying college so much. I was surprised to discover my parents have been more modern in my upbringing than I realized. Mama was always very frank when she answered our questions about basic biology and I’m discovering that wasn’t true for many of the other students who are certainly having their eyes opened in the biology class. (I will be taking that next term.) Besides enjoying my classes, I have been to tea with some classmates several times at the home of Miss Alice Longfellow, daughter of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and naturally we attend the teas the college president, Mrs. Agassiz, holds every Wednesday in the drawing room of Fay House. (Fay House is where the college is located.) Emily Collins and I are still good friends and I’ve made two new ones- Samantha Overton from Rochester, New York, and Sylvia Hopkins from Terre Haute, Indiana. The four of us have become quite close. We don’t spend all our time studying either. Last Saturday the four of us went toboggan sliding with a couple of Harvard students staying at the same boarding-house with Samantha and Sylvia. (I hope to persuade Daddy to allow me to stay at that same boarding-house next year with Samantha and Sylvia.) It was great fun and the others had a hard time believing that I had never seen snow until I came to Boston.

Since I’ve made my debut in society, I’ve also attended a few balls and I’ve attended the theatre and symphony a few times with young men Mr. and Mrs. Alden deem acceptable. My most frequent escort is Mr. Christopher Burton. He is a fascinating conversationalist and very handsome. He’s tall and has dark hair like Daddy (and like you must have had when you were a young man, Grandpa). In fact, his eyes remind me of yours for they are the same colour, like black coffee. He is a few years older than I am, but young men my age are so immature.

Joe broke in then. “What happened to the young man studying in England? Sounds like he’s been eclipsed.”

“I don’t know that they were ever more than friends,” Ben replied. “Besides, Miranda is still very young.”

“Lots of girls are married by the time they’re nineteen,”

“Well, lots of girls aren’t college students,” his father retorted. “Now, may I return to Miranda’s letter?”

. . . However, Mr. Burton had to return to St. Louis because he received a telegram saying that his mother was very ill. He did say he hoped to return to Boston once her health improved.

“I don’t want to wish his mother ill, but I hope it is some time before he returns to Boston,” Ben interjected and Joe grinned while thinking, If older brother knows about this Mr. Burton, I’ll bet he feels the same way.

It will be Christmas soon and I’m looking forward to carolling again this year and attending the party afterward. I feel very close to Daddy then for he’s told us often how he used to go carolling with the Park Street Church choir when he was a student at Harvard.

Before I close I wanted to reassure you both that Benj and Sarah are well. I visit them every Sunday afternoon. I suppose to be completely accurate I should say I visit Sarah. Benj is now at that age where he wants nothing to do with girls and that includes his cousin. Sarah misses you both very much and we talk about you constantly. She loves for me to tell her the stories Daddy used to tell us about when he and Uncle Hoss and Uncle Joe were growing up on the Ponderosa. The stories make us both feel closer to our families.

I love you both very much and I can’t wait to see you this summer.

Miranda

“I’m so glad Miranda is there in Boston,” Joe said softly, wiping the moisture from his cheeks with the backs of his hands. “She’ll make sure my children don’t forget they are Cartwrights.”

“I wish I could be there to hear her share stories about the three of you boys. When she comes to visit us this summer, we’ll have to get her to tell us. Then we can add some stories her father may have forgotten,” and the two men shared watery smiles.

* ~ * ~ *

Christmas preparations at the Cartwright home in Cloncurry hadn’t been any merrier than those on the Ponderosa. Adam and Bronwen tried, for their children’s sake, to put up a front but this second Christmas without Penny was no easier than the first although Bronwen was grateful that this year Adam was no longer so full of anger and despair that he shut out the rest of the world. Gwyneth saw through her parents’ façade but she also pretended to be happy and excited for her baby brother’s sake. A.C. wanted things to be the way they used to be and Beth’s grief had been blunted by her own little girl so they accepted their parents’ and sister’s performances at face value.

The Jones family was coming to share Christmas dinner, but on Christmas Eve it was just Adam, Bronwen, Gwyneth and A.C. While the four of them decorated the gum tree branch that served as a Christmas “tree” in the outback, including the ornaments Adam had carved for Beth and Miranda, A.C. chattered away not even noticing the silence of the other three. “I want to put my roo ornament up high like Gwyneth’s, Daddy. Can you lift me up?” he inquired.

“I don’t think you’re too big for me to lift yet,” Adam replied with a rather forced smile. After A.C. was satisfied with the placement of his personal ornament, a little kangaroo with a joey peeping from the pouch that his father had carved, he began rummaging through the box for another ornament to hang.

“Look! Penny’s kitten!” he exclaimed holding up the little carving his father had made for his sister. His mother gasped, one of her hands flying up to half cover her face and she ran from the room. “Mama?” the little boy said in a quavering voice, his brown eyes big and round.

“It’s all right, Jackeroo,” his father managed to get out in a choked voice. “I’ll take care of Mama and Gwyneth will help you hang Penny’s ornament.”

“We don’t have to hang it, Daddy,” Gwyneth said in a strained voice. “Not if it hurts you and Mama too much.”

“Maybe next year,” he agreed quietly. “You and your brother finish decorating, all right?” and she nodded.

“I-I didn’t mean to make Mama cry,” A.C. said as tears pooled in his own eyes.

“We know you didn’t,” Gwyneth replied squeezing his neck gently. “Mama and Daddy are just really missing Penny right now. But they want us to have a merry Christmas and the best thing to do is finish decorating just like Daddy said.” She managed an encouraging smile before placing the little ornament back among the tissues. “They’ll be back soon. You’ll see. And everything will be fine.”

A.C. soon saw that his sister was correct in her prediction. His parents came back in a few minutes and they smiled at him. He did notice that their eyes were red and puffy but he didn’t say anything about that. After a light supper, they joined the Davies and the two families went caroling through the streets of Cloncurry. When they returned, they drank the fresh lemonade Mary had made, using lemons picked from their lemon tree, and then they gathered in the drawing room for their traditional Christmas Eve celebration. Gwyneth and Bronwen sat in the two green brocade armchairs as always while A.C. sat on the settee next to his father. Adam’s right side, where Penny had always sat, was empty and he felt his throat constrict. Gwyneth saw the tears in her daddy’s eyes and knew instinctively what was wrong.

“May I sit beside you?” she asked quietly and he nodded. As she slipped beside him she asked softly, “Could I recite the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas this year?” Adam nodded again, still not trusting his voice.

By the time Gwyneth finished reciting the poem, Adam was again in control and he was able to read the Christmas story found in Luke’s gospel. When he finished, Gwyneth carried the large Cartwright family Bible (which Ben had given to Adam after his marriage) over to her mother so she could read Matthew’s story of the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child. When Bronwen finished, Adam turned to A.C., who was rubbing his eyes to keep them open.

“Time for bed, Jackeroo. Tomorrow morning you can see what Santa Claus brought you. I’ll come tuck you in.”

“Night, Mama,” the little boy said sleepily, giving her a quick kiss and hug. “Night, Gwyneth,” he added with a huge yawn. He placed his hand in his daddy’s and let himself be led up to his bed.

When Adam returned to the drawing room after tucking in his half-asleep son, he found his wife and daughter putting gaily wrapped gifts under the Christmas “tree”. He walked over to Gwyneth and gave her a quick hug. “Thank you,” he said softly and she returned the hug briefly before busying herself arranging the packages. Bronwen smiled inwardly, for expressing their feelings was difficult for both father and daughter.

“I hope A.C. likes the Aesop’s Fables I bought him in Boston,” Gwyneth commented.

“I’m sure that he will,” her mother said with a smile.

“I considered The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood because it has beautiful illustrations, but I thought it was too old for A.C. The same was true for Treasure Island or Kidnapped.”

“Yes, he’ll enjoy those when he’s nine or ten,” her father agreed. “We got him the complete set of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Stories at The Corner Bookstore. They’re probably too difficult for him to read on his own, but I think he’ll enjoy listening to them read aloud.”

“I know I will,” Gwyneth said with a smile, for she had devoured all nine Fairy Books from Blue through Yellow. She stood up then saying, “I think I’ll go to bed now. Goodnight,” and she kissed each parent before heading up the stairs.

“Let’s stuff their stockings now,” Bronwen suggested. Just before supper, she and Adam had slipped up to the attic with Penny’s Christmas stocking and lovingly placed it alongside the treasure box that had been Ben’s last gift to his little granddaughter, the pretty pink muslin dress that Matilda had made for her youngest niece’s last birthday, the knickerbockers Penny had worn when she went riding, and her Graces game. Now there would be no unbearably sad reminder of their lost little girl confronting them as they filled the stockings.

They sat side by side at the dining table and he stuffed A.C.’s stocking while she stuffed Gwyneth’s. Usually they talked while they performed this task, but this year they worked in silence.

The temperature in Cloncurry never dropped below 50 degrees; therefore, they had no fireplace on which to hang the stockings. Adam and Bronwen simply snuck into the children’s rooms and laid their stockings on their chest of drawers for them to find first thing Christmas morning. It was tradition that each child could empty the contents of his or her stocking as soon as he or she awoke Christmas morning (although no candy could be eaten until after breakfast), but no one could go downstairs until Adam and Bronwen gave their permission. After silently slipping into the children’s rooms and depositing the overflowing stockings, they went to their room and got ready for bed, each lost in his or her personal memories of Penny. That night they held each other close, sharing their recollections of their precious little girl and all the Christmases they’d spent with her. Because they were alone, both adults let themselves express the depth of their continuing grief and comforted each other as best they could. The release of emotion brought a measure of peace to each of them and they were able to fall asleep in the hours before daybreak.

“Daddy! Mama! Can we go down and open our presents?”

Adam rolled over groggily and opened his eyes to darkness. “Is the sun up?” he called out as he felt Bronwen stir beside him in the dark room.

There was silence and then A.C. said in a hesitant voice, “I think it’s almost up, Daddy.”

“When it’s all the way up, then you come back and ask if you can go downstairs,” Adam replied and Bronwen added, “Don’t eat any of your candy yet.”

It seemed to Adam as though he’d barely closed his eyes when he was awakened by a persistent tapping on the bedroom door.

“The sun’s up now, Daddy,” he heard his son announce.

“Daddy and I will be ready in five minutes so you may wait at the top of the stairs,” Bronwen stated in a no-nonsense voice as she heard the shuffling of impatient feet move towards the stairway.

When Adam and Bronwen emerged from the master bedroom, A.C. and Gwyneth were both standing at the top of the stairs in their robes and slippers, looking like runners waiting for the sound of the gun.

“They’ll be no running,” Bronwen said firmly as Adam found himself grinning in spite of himself at the sight of his normally imperturbable daughter, with the curls that had escaped her braid bouncing in concert with her barely contained excitement.

A.C. quickly headed down the stairs with Gwyneth following at a slightly more sedate pace. Adam and Bronwen shared a poignant smile as they remembered the Christmas mornings when there’d been five children hurrying down the stairs to the drawing room instead of only two.

“No running,” Bronwen repeated and reluctantly A.C. slowed his pace. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he dashed into the drawing room and made a beeline for the decorated gum tree branch. That is until he heard his father’s deep voice intone, “Adam Stoddard Cartwright, Jr.!” The little boy stopped in his tracks and reluctantly seated himself on the green-and-white settee and waited for the rest of the family to join him.

Everyone was delighted with their gifts: The spurs his grandpa and Uncle Joe had had made especially for him with a silver overlay engraved with the Ponderosa’s pine tree brand were A.C.’s favorite. Adam’s was the leather-bound copy of Henry Adams’ History of the USA During the Administration of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that Miranda had sent him from Boston. Bronwen was delighted with Adam’s gifts of a frou-frou petticoat and a delicate cameo. Gwyneth’s gift from her parents was the most spectacular: a pair of simple but elegant diamond earrings.

“They’re beautiful, but you shouldn’t have,” Gwyneth said breathlessly.

“Yes, we should,” Adam relied. “Your older sisters each received jewelry on their sixteenth birthday, but you didn’t. Mama and I wanted to rectify that and since diamonds are your birthstone, they seemed the most appropriate choice.”

“I know they’re for a special occasion, but could I wear them today just so I can show them to Beth and Dafydd?” Gwyneth asked and her parents nodded, for they had anticipated her request.

“May we go for a ride, Daddy, so I can wear my new spurs?” A.C. begged.

“After we do our chores and eat breakfast, then we’ll go for a ride,” Adam promised. “And we’ll be back in plenty of time for Christmas dinner,” he added for his wife’s benefit.

“Be back early enough that you can each take a bath,” Bronwen requested and Adam nodded while A.C. whined, “Aw, Mama. Do I have to?”

“Yes, you do and if you fuss about it, then you won’t be going riding,” his mama replied.

By the time the Joneses arrived, the temperature had soared. The four Cartwrights were sitting on the verandah and A.C. ran to greet his sister, brother-in-law and niece. Beth had followed her mother’s advice about going on long walks so she had almost regained her slim figure. At six weeks old, Elen had lost the dark hair she was born with and light brown hair replaced it, although at this point it wasn’t much more than fuzz. She had plumped out a little but she was not a chubby baby as her mother had been.

“Merry Christmas, Bethy! Merry Christmas, Dafydd,” A.C. shouted as he ran toward them. The loud sound woke Elen who immediately began screaming her displeasure.

“Oh, A.C., can’t you remember to be quiet around Elen?” his sister snapped, her nerves frayed.

Adam had followed his son and said calmly, “Let me have Elen, Princess,” and Beth gratefully handed her wailing daughter to her father. Adam held Elen so she could rest her head on his shoulder and gently rubbed her back while speaking to her in a soft, soothing voice.

“I’m sorry, Bethy,” A.C. said in a small voice and his brother-in-law ruffled his hair.

“We know you are, A.C. bach. It’s just that Bethan and I didn’t get much sleep last night so we’re a bit on edge.”

“I’m sorry I was dirty with you,” Beth said contritely. Then she smiled at him. “Elen liked the toy rabbit you all gave her. Just like Bunny,” she added thinking of her baby sister’s brown velvet rabbit. Bronwen and Gwyneth joined them in time to hear her remark and Bronwen said softly, “Yes, I used Bunny as a model and the little red velvet rabbit your grandpa and uncles sent you for your first Christmas.”

“I’d almost forgotten my rabbit,” Beth said. “You don’t still have it?”

“Of course I do. It’s packed away with the little rag doll I made for your first Christmas.” She smiled at her first-born. “You nearly loved them to death.”

Elen’s loud cries had subsided and, to her frazzled parents’ relief, she was sleeping peacefully on her grandpa’s shoulder. “Elen and I will sit on the swing. I think the rocking motion will keep her sleeping,” Adam said.

“The chicken is still roasting so why don’t we all sit on the verandah where it’s a bit cooler?” Bronwen suggested. She sat beside Adam on the swing, ready to help if their granddaughter woke. Beth, Dafydd and Gwyneth sat on the wicker chairs while A.C. perched on the railing with Lady at his feet. Almost as soon as they sat down, Beth noticed her sister’s earrings.

“Mama and Daddy gave them to me,” Gwyneth said proudly and for just a moment Beth felt a stab of jealousy. Then she scolded herself. You have Grandma’s pearls, and a minister’s wife has no need of diamonds. She said cheerfully, “They’re lovely and very becoming.”

“You received my mother’s pearls on your sixteenth birthday and Miranda received her cameo on hers but there was nothing to give Gwyneth. Mama and I decided that since diamonds are her birthstone, we would get her jewelry in Boston and then give it to her for Christmas.”

“What did you get for Christmas, Bethy?” A.C. asked.

“Mama and Daddy got me this pretty blouse,” she said proudly, for she loved the lightweight pink-and-white striped cotton blouse with its white sailor collar, “and Gwyneth bought me these new shoes.” She pulled up her skirt just enough to reveal a pair of green morocco leather shoes with steel buckles. “Miranda gave me my new hat,” and she touched the brim of her straw boater. She smiled warmly at her little brother saying, “And I love the pretty handkerchiefs you gave me.” She added, “Thank you all so much.”

“What did you give Bethy?” A.C. asked his brother-in-law and was puzzled by the intimate smile the young couple shared. Bronwen and Gwyneth also shared a smile for they (and Miranda) had done Dafydd’s shopping for him. He had come to see his mother-in-law a day or two before the family sailed for Boston.

“I wonder if you could do me a favor, Mam?” he had asked a bit nervously. “I’ve heard you talk about all the lovely things for sale at that shop in Boston, so I wondered if I gave you some money, could you help me buy Bethan’s Christmas present?”

“Of course, Dafydd. Do you have something in mind?” Her lips curved up just a little as her son-in-law blushed slightly.

“She’s seen advertisements for ladies combinations that are decorated so prettily with ribbons and lace and I know she’d like some for herself.”

“I’d be happy to shop for some you can give Beth,” Bronwen had answered with a smile. When she and her two younger daughters had been shopping at Bloomingdale’s, they’d found glamorous combinations decorated with frills, tucks, lace trimmings and ribbons. They cost a bit more money than Dafydd had provided but they were so lovely that the three women contributed enough to make up the difference, knowing how much their sister would love wearing them. (And Bronwen knew how much Dafydd would enjoy seeing her wear them; in fact, she bought one pair for herself as a surprise for Adam.)

“Bethy,” the little boy persisted since his brother-in-law had effectively ignored his previous question. “What did Dafydd get you for Christmas?”

“A.C., presents that married couples give to each other are, sometimes, very private and personal. I’m sure Beth liked whatever Dafydd chose to give her, so let’s just leave it at that,” his father said, without anger, as he recalled his own “appreciation” of some of the gifts he’d given Bronwen over the years, including the frou-frou petticoat this year

A.C. knew better than to press the issue, even on Christmas Day, so he was content to pet Lady while the adults continued to talk. Just as Bronwen was about to say that dinner was ready, Elen woke and began to cry.

“She’s hungry again. I’ll take her, Daddy,” Beth said, as she carefully took the wailing bundle from her father’s strong arms. “You all can go ahead and eat without me.”

“Nonsense,” Bronwen said. “You just go on up to our bedroom and we’ll wait until Elen’s had her Christmas dinner.”

As his sister disappeared into the house, A.C. complained, “I’m hungry, too.”

“You’re not starving, young man, so I don’t want to hear any more complaining,” his daddy said with a raised eyebrow. Then, hoping to take everyone’s mind off of the slight delay, he added, “Why don’t we all play Twenty Questions while we wait?”

Bronwen had gotten their old cradle out of the attic after Elen’s birth so it would be there when the baby visited. After Beth was finished nursing Elen, she joined the others and placed the baby in the cradle, which Adam had earlier carried into the dining room. Since the temperature was close to 110 degrees, even with the French doors and the dining room window wide open, the room was still stifling.

“Why don’t we take our food and eat on the verandah?” Gwyneth suggested and everyone agreed. Carrying their plates through the French doors, with Adam holding his son’s plate as well as his own since they were using their good china, the family settled down around the informal wicker tables to enjoy their meal. Dafydd carried the cradle containing his tiny daughter and placed it by his wife’s chair before going back for his food. They were about halfway through the meal when Elen began crying.

Beth immediately jumped up to see what was wrong. Knowing that the baby could not be hungry again so soon, the anxious young mother lifted her infant and felt for any indications of wetness on her nappy. As she feared, Elen was not wet either. Her anxiety rising, Beth walked back and forth saying quietly, “Please stop crying, little one. Please.” She could feel tears of frustration and inadequacy welling up in her eyes when her daddy walked up to her.

“Why don’t you let me try,” he suggested softly.

“No, I can manage,” she retorted, her cheeks hot.

“Your daddy has a special touch with colicky babies,” her mama added coming up to stand by her husband. “It’s not you, Beth. Some babies are colicky. You were too young to remember but Gwyneth was colicky and your daddy could calm her down when I’d have no luck whatsoever.”

Reluctantly, Beth handed her now screaming daughter to Adam, who took her and sat down on the swing with Elen across his lap on her belly. He gently rubbed her back while rocking the swing slightly and slowly the baby’s crying subsided.

“Your Uncle Joe was colicky and I was the only one who could calm him,” he said softly as he continued to gently rock the swing. “He wouldn’t stop crying for Grandma Marie or for Grandpa but I’d lay him like this and rub his back and it usually worked. When Gwyneth turned out to be colicky as well, I tried it with her and it worked sometimes, but sitting on the swing with her worked more often.” Gwyneth rolled her eyes at this information while A.C. giggled softly. Adam smiled at his daughter and son-in-law. “Joe and Gwyneth both seemed to outgrow being colicky when they were about three or four months old, so I’m sure in another month or two Elen will as well.”

“Is it worse in the afternoon?” Bronwen asked. When her daughter nodded, she said, “I’ll try to come visiting then so I can spell you. I remember how frustrating it feels when you can’t console your child, but you mustn’t blame yourself or Elen. Some babies are colicky and no one knows why. But they do outgrow it. That’s something to hold onto when you’re at your wit’s end.”

Beth smiled weakly at that but then said seriously to her daddy, “You can’t finish eating and hold her. I’ll take her.”

“Oh, I feel pretty full,” he replied. “You finish eating and I’ll just sit here and enjoy spending time with my granddaughter.”

By the time everyone had finished eating Elen had fallen asleep. While the women cleaned up, Adam, Dafydd and A.C. stayed on the verandah and played parlor games. When the women finished, they rejoined the men. They were in the middle of a game of Dumb Crambo when A.C. spied the Davies approaching.

“It’s time to make the Christmas taffy!” he shouted, waking Elen, who promptly began to scream her displeasure.

“A.C.!” all the adults chorused and he hung his head.

“I didn’t mean to wake her up.”

“Jackeroo, I’m sure glad you are our youngest. I don’t even want to imagine what it would have been like if you’d been around when your sisters were babies,” Adam said with a sigh. “Why don’t you go greet your aunt and uncle and cousin while I see if I can calm Elen again.”

“We’ll go get everything ready for the taffy,” Bronwen said, deducing her husband would have a better chance of calming their granddaughter if there were less people around.

Adam quickly discovered that Elen would have awakened soon even if her uncle had been perfectly quiet, so he carried his screaming granddaughter down the hall to the kitchen. “Princess, Elen needs her nappy changed,” he said speaking over the baby’s screams.

“Here, I’ll take her,” Beth said holding out her arms. “I brought some clean nappies and a clean gown.”

Before Beth left the room, Adam spoke up. “Don’t start making the taffy yet. Once Elen has a clean nappy, I’d like for all of us to gather outside for a family photograph. I’ll send copies to Pa and Joe, Miranda, and Tad and Mam.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, Daddy,” Beth exclaimed with a beaming smile. “Could you take one of Dafydd, Elen and I that we could send to his parents?”

“Of course. In fact, everyone would probably like one of just the three of you.”

“And I’d like one of you and Mama with Elen,” Beth added and her parents both smiled.

“Daddy should be the one holding Elen since she behaves better for him,” Bronwen added while Adam smirked. Elen began to wail more loudly so Beth hurriedly took her upstairs to change her.

While Elen was being changed, Adam explained his idea to the Davies who enthusiastically agreed. “I’ll take the photographs that go to Boston and Nevada and you can take the ones going to Sydney,” Rhys declared.

“Hurry up,” A.C. announced, “’cause I wanna make the taffy.” The look of displeasure that appeared on his daddy’s face at his disrespectful remark caused the child to hastily rephrase his statement. “Please hurry ’cause I want to show Elen how to do it, too.”

Adam nodded his head once to signal that his son had been forgiven his rudeness and suggested, “Why don’t you help Llywelyn bring four chairs from the verandah and set them up in the yard while Uncle Rhys and I go get the camera and tripod and set them up?”

“Right,” A.C. replied with a relieved grin.

Thankfully, Elen was feeling much happier after having her nappy changed and submitted to having her photograph taken with a good grace although by the time Adam held her for the picture with Bronwen, she had gone back to sleep. A.C. showed off his Christmas gifts to his uncle and cousin while the women made the taffy. Adam hadn’t put up the camera and took a couple of pictures of A.C. and Llywelyn dropping dollops of taffy (or toffee as they called it in the States) in cool water where it curled into odd shapes. After a light supper, the three families sang Christmas carols. Both the youngest members fell asleep while the others were singing. Dafydd and Beth carried their little girl back to the parsonage and Adam carried his little boy upstairs and exchanged shirt and knickerbockers for cotton pyjamas and then slipped him under the bedclothes.

That night as Adam and Bronwen lay in their bed she said softly, “It was a better Christmas than I thought it would be.”

“Yes,” he replied quietly, “it was. I suppose as the years go by they will get easier. Having Elen there was a big help, too.”

December 26, Boxing Day, the Davies hosted a dinner for Llywelyn and Mark, who were leaving for the Sydney Technical College the next day. Knowing how Mark felt about Gwyneth, they’d invited the Cartwrights as well as the Pentreaths.

Mr. and Mrs. Pentreath were obviously ill-at-ease dining with his bosses and their families. He had wanted to refuse the invitation but she put her foot down.

“Mr. and Mrs. Davies invited us because our Mark has been friends with their Llywelyn ever since we moved to Cloncurry. The two of them are going to be staying with Dr. and Mrs. Davies while they attend the college. Not to mention the fact Mark has been seeing Gwyneth Cartwright for about three months now. We’re going to this dinner, Jory Pentreath, and that’s final!”

He still felt uncomfortable about his son courting his boss’s daughter so he retorted, “Douglas Campbell has been courting her longer than Mark, and his father owns his own business just like Mr. Cartwright.”

Mrs. Pentreath sniffed. “Douglas Campbell drinks too much and has a bad temper, or so I’ve heard. I’m sure the Cartwrights would prefer a smart, sober boy like our Mark to Douglas Campbell.”

“And I’ve heard that ever since Douglas Campbell has been courting Gwyneth Cartwright he’s not visited the pub nearly as often and hasn’t been in a single brawl. He must truly love the girl if he’s willing to reform to please her.”

“But does she love him?” Mrs. Pentreath asked smugly. “I think it’s our Mark that’s won her heart.”

“Mark will be in Sydney for four years and Douglas Campbell will be here in Cloncurry courting Gwyneth Cartwright,” her husband replied. “Besides, Mark may fall in love with a girl in Sydney.” Before she could protest he added, “But you’re right, Morwenna. Since the Davies were kind enough to invite us, than it’d be bad manners not to accept their invitation.”

Although their parents may have felt awkward, Mark’s younger siblings-fifteen-year-old Demelza and twelve-year-old Tamsyn-who knew Llywelyn, Gwyneth and A.C. from school, were more relaxed. Both girls were dressed in their best clothes: Demelza, who was old enough to dress like a young woman, wore a white cotton shirtwaist blouse and a navy blue delaine skirt that she’d sewn herself while Tamsyn wore a pretty smocked frock of pink silk that used to belong to Penny. (Even though Adam and Bronwen had given Tamsyn the dress and had seen her wear it to church many times, it still brought tears to their eyes to see her wearing it at the dinner for she was a dainty little girl with dark hair just as Penny had been.)

Luckily the temperature dropped to about 85 degrees that evening, for while the Davies’ dining room had two large windows, it did not open onto a verandah as the Cartwrights’ did so they would have been forced to eat in an unbearably hot room. Matilda was a tactful, gentle woman and knowing an elaborate supper would be uncomfortable for Mark and his family, she and Daisy prepared a simple meal and then Daisy was given the night off, for the guests would serve themselves the food.

“You designed this house as well as your own?” Mrs. Pentreath asked Adam timidly as they dined. She was very impressed with the house, which seemed a mansion compared to the small, four-room house they occupied. Adam smiled warmly, trying to put her at ease.

“Yes. You see when I was attending college, I was interested in architecture as well as engineering. However, no college in the United States actually taught architecture; I would have had to study in Europe and it was hard enough on my father to send me back east to school. Besides, he was sending me so that I could learn practical subjects that would be of use on a cattle ranch-uh, station. Actually, Harvard didn’t offer a degree in engineering, but the curriculum covered the basic principles. . . .”

Cariad,” Bronwen tactfully but gently inserted. “I think you’re providing Mrs. Pentreath with a bit more information than she actually requested.”

“Sorry.” Adam grinned sheepishly. “I was getting long-winded. My classes in college related more to engineering, but during my last two summers at Harvard I served an apprenticeship with an architect in Boston. The first house I designed was for my family and then I had a few smaller projects. Working on our cattle station didn’t really leave much time for architecture. When Rhys and I decided to mine for copper here, I mentioned I was going to design a house for Bronwen and me, so he asked if I could design one for him and Matilda.”

“When Rhys brought me here after our marriage, I just fell in love with our house,” Matilda interjected.

“Just as I fell in love with ours,” Bronwen added.

“Ours is small but it has a big verandah and we sleep out there when it’s really hot,” Tamsyn interjected.

“Tamsyn,” her mother said, her face reddening, but then A.C. spoke up.

“So do we. Me and Gwyneth sleep on the downstairs verandah and Mama and Daddy on the upstairs.”

“A.C., that will be quite enough talk about sleeping habits,” Bronwen said firmly while all the adults smiled.

“So are you going to be attending the Sydney Technical College when you grow up, young man?” Mr. Pentreath asked.

“Yes, sir. I’m going to be an engineer just like my daddy and Uncle Rhys,” A.C. said proudly.

“Well, that’s good,” Mr. Pentreath said and his wife spoke up.

“How is your new granddaughter?”

“She’s fine,” Bronwen replied. “Apparently she’s colicky, but my husband has a magic touch with colicky babies. He could get Gwyneth to stop crying when I’d have no luck whatsoever.”

“Mama!” Gwyneth expostulated, her face fiery red while Mark smiled at her. Mr. Pentreath looked at Adam in amazement because caring for babies was women’s work.

Adam saw the look but was unfazed. “I helped to raise my two brothers since their mothers died when they were quite young. Seemed natural to me to help with my own babies.”

“Although he got out of changing their dirty nappies,” Bronwen added with a wink at Rhys and Matilda while both Mr. and Mrs. Pentreath exchanged confused glances.

Adam added more seriously, “My own father had to be both mother and father to me and my brothers and with him as a role model, it’s not surprising I chose to be more involved in raising my own children. It would have been easier if they’d all been boys though,” he added with a chuckle.

“Aye, I know what you mean,” Mr. Pentreath said with a fond smile at his own two daughters. “You can teach a boy to look after himself, but a girl needs a father or older brother to make sure no young man takes any liberties.”

“Amen!” Adam replied while Gwyneth rolled her eyes and Demelza said, “Oh, Daddy!”

“Never you mind, girl,” Mr. Pentreath said. “Mr. Cartwright and I know what we’re talking about. Demelza there is barely fifteen and some of the young men in the neighborhood have already been after her. I’ve sent them packing.”

“Fifteen is too young,” Adam agreed. “Sixteen seems too young to me, but my wife and daughters overruled me.” He looked at both Gwyneth and Mark and said seriously, “Sixteen and seventeen are too young to be thinking of marriage. I’m happy for Mark and Gwyneth to correspond but I think they both need to see other people. I’m sure you agree.”

“Of course,” Mr. Pentreath agreed quickly, although since the Cartwrights’ daughter was nearly seventeen, he didn’t see why she would be considered too young to marry. “I don’t know how much time Mark and Llywelyn are going to have to be courting young ladies. Mark at least will have to have his nose buried in his books so he can keep his scholarship.”

“I’m certain they’ll both do fine,” Rhys interjected. He’d been watching the faces of his niece and his son’s friend during the exchange between their fathers. He was beginning to think it was a good thing Gwyneth and Mark would be separated because he agreed with his brother-in-law that Gwyneth was still too young to give her heart to any young man-even a decent one like young Mark. “After all,” he added with a wink to the two young men, “all work and no play make Jack a dull fellow.”

“Yes, and I think we can trust these two to behave with the same commonsense in Sydney that they’ve displayed in Cloncurry,” Adam added. Their mothers didn’t look quite as sure and cast anxious glances at their sons, hoping they would withstand the temptations of a big city like Sydney.

After the meal, they all adjourned to the parlor. Unlike the Cartwrights’ drawing room, this room was filled with furniture that was covered with bric-a-brac and framed photographs of Llywelyn at different ages (taken by his Uncle Adam and given to Rhys and Matilda as gifts). The Pentreaths were suitably impressed. Mark, however, preferred the elegant simplicity of the Cartwrights’ home.

As soon as everyone was seated, Mark said, “I won’t be able to hear Gwyneth sing for four years, so I was hoping she could sing for me-and Llywelyn-tonight.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Matilda said with a smile.

“I don’t have my guitar, but I could sing a cappella. What would you like to hear?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, you choose,” Mark replied, gazing longingly into her amber eyes.

Gwyneth was quiet for a moment and then she began to sing soulfully as she gazed into Mark’s eyes as though they were the only two people in the room:

Early one morning, just as the sun was rising
I heard a maid sing in the valley below
“Oh don’t deceive me, Oh never leave me,
How could you use, a poor maiden so?”

How could you slight so a pretty girl who loves you
A pretty girl who loves you so dearly and warm?
Though love’s folly is surely but a fancy,
Still it should prove to me sweeter than your scorn.

Soon you will meet with another pretty maiden
Some pretty maiden, you’ll court her for a while;
Thus ever ranging, turning and changing
Always seeking for a girl that is new.

Thus sang the maiden, her sorrows bewailing
Thus sang the poor maid in the valley below
“Oh don’t deceive me, Oh never leave me,
How could you use, a poor maiden so?”

As his daughter sang, Adam frowned slightly, noting how her eyes never left Mark’s. When she finished Mark said, “I’ve a song I’d like to sing. If that’s all right?” and he looked at Rhys and Matilda.

“Certainly,” Matilda said. “I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it.”

Mark looked at Gwyneth and began to sing in his velvet bass:

Why should thy cheek be pale,
Shaded with sorrow’s veil?
Why should’st thou grieve me?
I will never, never leave thee.
‘Mid my deepest sadness,
‘Mid my gayest gladness,
I am thine, believe me;
I will never, never leave thee.

Life’s storms may rudely blow,
Laying hope and pleasure low:
I’d ne’er deceive thee;
I could never, never leave thee.
Ne’er till my cheek grow pale,
And my heart pulses fail,
And my last breath grieve thee.
Can I ever, ever leave thee!

Llywelyn was watching his aunt’s and uncle’s faces as his friend sang, and as soon as Mark finished he spoke up, hoping to defuse the charged atmosphere. “Uncle Adam has shared some songs he learned back in the States. Would you sing O Susanna for us, Uncle Adam?”

“Oh yes, please,” Mrs. Pentreath added, for she had also seen the disapproval on Adam’s face as Gwyneth and Mark sang.

“All right,” Adam replied in an even tone, but Gwyneth knew she and her father would have a talk when they got home.

The humorous song did put Adam in a better mood so he readily agreed to A.C.’s request to sing Sweet Betsy from Pike. (The little boy always laughed at the idea of a place named Hangtown.) When he finished, he turned to Bronwen and said, “I sang this song to my wife many years ago when we first married, and it’s even more appropriate now.” Gazing into her violet eyes, he began singing Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms. When he finished, Rhys sang Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes to a blushing Matilda. Mr. Pentreath apologized for not having as fine a voice before singing, (quite well, actually) Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair to his delighted wife.

As soon as Mr. Pentreath finished, A.C. jumped up. “I know a song.”

“Then sing it for us, lad,” Mr. Pentreath said while the other Cartwrights and the Davies hid their grins behind their hands because A.C. was tone-deaf.

“Could I sing with you?” Llywelyn suggested.

“Okay,” A.C. said. “I wanna sing Clementine.”

Everyone was smiling by the time the two got to the verse:

How I missed her! How I missed her,
How I missed my Clementine,
But I kissed her little sister,
I forgot my Clementine.

When they finished to a round of applause, Mr. Pentreath said, “Mr. and Mrs. Davies, my family and I want to thank you for your hospitality but we must be going.”

“We’ve enjoyed having you all here,” Rhys said as he and Matilda walked with them to the door while Mark lingered behind. He approached Adam and Bronwen with a mixture of determination and terror. “Mr. Cartwright, since I won’t see Gwyneth for four years, I want to ask your permission to kiss her goodbye.” Adam scowled but before he could open his mouth Bronwen said quickly, “Yes, Mark, you may kiss Gwyneth goodbye. We’ll leave so the two of you may have some privacy.”

When her husband glowered at her, she glowered back and then, placing her hand on his arm, she propelled him into the hallway.

“Where’s Mark?” Llywelyn asked but the look on his uncle’s face made him wish he’d kept his mouth shut.

“He and Gwyneth are saying goodbye,” Bronwen replied calmly.

“One more minute and then I’m going back in there,” Adam growled but luckily the couple emerged then. Unluckily, Gwyneth was pinning her hair back up and she forgot to stand in front of Mark and shield him from her daddy’s gaze. Mark realized his aroused condition was all too obvious and said hurriedly, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Llywelyn.” He made a speedy exit while keeping his distance from Adam.

“I think we’d better be going as well,” Bronwen said to her brother and sister-in-law, “because it’s past A.C’s bedtime. Thank you for a lovely evening.”

As they walked back to their house, Adam said quietly, “Mama will tell you a bedtime story tonight, Jackeroo. I need to talk with your sister.”

“A necessary talk?” A.C. asked, looking at his sister worriedly, for he recognized his daddy’s tone. Gwyneth kept her eyes downcast as she continued to walk towards the verandah.

“No, your sister is too old for those. I just need to talk with her.” He added firmly, “No more questions, young man, because what we talk about is between your sister and me.”

A.C. still looked worried, but he knew not to press or he might be the one having a necessary talk with his daddy.

“In the library,” Adam said impassively to Gwyneth the minute they walked in the front door.

Once they entered the room, he closed the door, sat ramrod straight behind his desk, and stared at his daughter. The tension was finally broken when he said tersely, “What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?”

“You said Mark could kiss me goodbye,” she said defensively, not caring that her tone was somewhat sharp.

“That was more than a simple goodbye kiss,” he replied in that ominously quiet way he had. “And watch your tone when you speak to me, Gwyneth Marie.”

Knowing that she had crossed the line for the second time that evening, the girl adopted a more respectful inflection. “He, he said he’d always wanted to see my hair down again, so I unpinned it. But we only kissed. I promise, Daddy.”

She was looking him straight in the eye so he knew she wasn’t lying. He was sure the kiss had been more intimate than he would’ve approved of, but she was only three months away from her seventeenth birthday. It nearly killed him to admit it, but his little girl was a woman now with a woman’s emotions and desires. He and her mother had done their best to instill their moral values in her, but the truth was that he had to trust her to make the right choices. He still felt she was too young to know her own heart and so he said, “I believe you; however, I want to make one thing clear to you, Gwyneth. If Douglas or Frank or any other reputable young man asks me for permission to walk you to and from church or to come calling, I will give it to them.”

Seeing his daughter’s beseeching visage, he continued in a more understanding way, “I know you and Mark think that you’re in love, but I meant what I said tonight: You are both too young to be thinking of marriage and you need to see other people. That’s the only way to make sure that what you feel for each other is truly love.”

There was a slight pause, as Gwyneth considered her father’s admonishments. Lifting her head proudly, she met her father’s gaze once again. “I’ll do what you say and see other young men, but it won’t make any difference, Daddy. I love Mark and he loves me,” she answered resolutely. Adam sighed as he saw that stubborn Cartwright glint in his daughter’s eyes, and he knew that she spoke the truth.

Chapter 2
“Miranda! Miranda, wait up!”

Miranda stopped buttoning her scarlet-colored velvet coat with its decadent sable trim and turned in the direction of the voice. She saw Sylvia hurrying toward her, also wearing a full-length coat trimmed in fur.

“Do you have time to come to my room and look over our Greek assignment?” Sylvia asked breathlessly. “I’ve really struggled with this one.”

“Right. As long as I’m back here at Fay House in two hours when Nicholson arrives to drive me to the Aldens’ house.” The two young women walked side by side, their collars turned up against the northeaster that had blown in that afternoon and threatened to rip Miranda’s sealskin toque off her head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how cold it gets here,” she complained.

“It is unseasonably cold for the middle of March,” Sylvia agreed with a grimace. “It is so strange to think that it’s fall where your family lives,” she added, shaking her head in wonder at the thought.

Once they reached the haven of Sylvia’s room, the girls took off their heavy coats and Miranda sat down at Sylvia’s desk to read over her translation. Their Greek class was studying Euripides’ play The Trojan Women, and that led to a lively discussion of his portrayal of women and the treatment of women in both ancient and modern times. Miranda was enjoying herself so much that she lost all track of time until she happened to glance at the watch that her grandpa had given her for her last birthday and saw how late she was.

“Stone the crows! I’ll never make it back to Fay House on time! I’ve got to go right now,” and she yanked on her coat and toque as she spoke. “See you tomorrow,” she called as she hurried out the door.

When she arrived at Fay House, there was no sign of Nicholson, but she knew he would be walking the horses around the block; it was too cold to leave them standing. She walked back and forth to keep warm and it wasn’t long before she spied the Aldens’ carriage.

“I’m sorry you had to wait, miss,” Nicholson said as he helped her into the carriage.

“I’m the one who needs to apologize to you,” she replied. “I was helping Miss Hopkins with one of our assignments and just lost track of the time.”

When she arrived at the Aldens’ home, Robertson, the butler, and Maureen, her maid, were waiting for her. He took her hat and coat and Maureen said hurriedly, “You need to hurry, Miss Miranda. You have a guest and he’s been invited to dine.”

“A guest?” Miranda repeated as she hurried up the stairs with Maureen.

“Mr. Burton,” and Miranda heard the admiration in the maid’s voice.

“He’s back from St. Louis,” she commented in an apparently disinterested tone. “It will be nice to see him again.”

Actually, her feelings about Christopher Burton were confusing. She thought she loved William Gordon but she hadn’t seen him for two years and when they’d parted, they’d only been friends. They’d never kissed or even held hands. In fact, Miranda had been too wrapped up in her studies to be interested in romance, so at nineteen she’d never been kissed and never had any sort of romance other than her long-distance relationship. Then she’d met Christopher Burton and he was her ideal man. He was tall, dark, devilishly handsome, articulate, and charming, and she’d enjoyed the time they’d spent together very much.

“Mrs. Alden suggested you wear your crimson taffeta,” Maureen continued and Miranda inwardly frowned. Maureen viewed Mrs. Alden’s suggestions as commands. However, she reminded herself, the crimson taffeta really did suit her.

She changed hurriedly and Maureen quickly straightened her hair. Miranda could see the maid wasn’t really satisfied but knew she didn’t have time to do a better job. Miranda glanced at her reflection and was pleased. Although the crimson taffeta had long sleeves with wide lace cuffs and a lace panel in the center as well as lace trim about the color, that same collar was a deep V that allowed a little décolletage. I have a feeling Daddy would not approve, but it’s how everyone in Boston society dresses. Besides, she thought with a sigh, Beth is the only one of us to really have much of a bosom so I doubt my décolletage is very titillating.

She found Mrs. Alden and Charlotte conversing with Christopher Burton in the drawing room. He was laughing at something Charlotte had said, and she was annoyed with herself for the prick of jealousy she felt. He looked up and saw her in the doorway and rose quickly with a smile.

“Ah, here is our Athena.”

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she replied smiling at him, which revealed her deep dimple. “I was studying The Trojan Women with a friend and we lost track of time.

“Ah yes. One of the greatest anti-war dramas ever written.”

“Yes, I agree. But I wish his women were not so passive.”

“I’ve been reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. I find them so sublimely romantic, don’t you, Mr. Burton?” Charlotte interjected, gazing at him meaningfully.

“Yes, indeed I do, Miss Alden.” He turned to Miranda. “Do you have a favorite poem, Miss Cartwright?”

“Yes,” she answered decisively and she began to recite the verses quietly:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

“Why, Miss Cartwright, you are as much a romantic as Miss Alden,” he commented with a little smile.

She felt her cheeks grow warm, but only replied coolly, “Just because mathematics and logic are my favorite subjects doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the arts. Mathematics, for example, has a strong influence on music.”

“And yet Herr Beethoven had difficulty learning the multiplication tables,” he replied with a wink.

“True. Perhaps that’s why I prefer Bach,” she answered with just a slight smile so her dimple was barely visible.

His lips quirked up in a way that reminded her of her daddy and then he changed the subject. “Is your grandfather by any chance Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa ranch?”

“Yes, that’s right,” she replied a little surprised at the question.

“A friend of my father’s is an acquaintance of his. When I mentioned I’d met a delightful young woman from Queensland whose surname was Cartwright, he wondered if you could be Ben Cartwright’s granddaughter. Said he knew Ben’s oldest son had married and settled there. He told me your family owns the largest ranch in Nevada.”

“The Ponderosa is enormous; I know that. I’ve only seen just a small portion, mostly what’s around the ranch house and a little along the shore of Lake Tahoe.”

“I’m surprised you’ve seen much of it at all,” he commented.

“Oh, Miranda spends her summer vacations on the ranch,” Charlotte said.

“That’s right,” Miranda agreed with just a touch of asperity. “I never got to see much of my grandfather and uncle when I was growing up, so I want to take advantage of the opportunity I have now.”

“You must miss your family very much,” he remarked quietly.

“Yes, I do,” she replied with a quiet intensity.

“You are a remarkable young woman, Miss Miranda Cartwright. To travel across the ocean and leave your family behind so you can fulfill your dream of a higher education.”

“I don’t know that I’m that remarkable,” she said, her cheeks reddening. “After all, if my family wasn’t wealthy, then I wouldn’t be here. Now, my father and grandfather were true pioneers. They set out from Boston when Daddy was hardly more than a baby and began to make their way west. It must have been so hard for Grandpa having to take care of a small boy all on his own.”

“Your grandmother wasn’t with them?” he asked in a puzzled tone.

“No, she died in childbirth so it was just Grandpa and Daddy.”

“I can see where you get your sense of adventure,” he commented.

“Most of it, but I think I get some from my mama as well. She’d grown up in Sydney, which is a good-sized city, but she was willing to leave it behind and go live in a tiny mining town in the outback with Daddy.”

“Of course, we all come from pioneer stock,” Mrs. Alden interjected. “Our ancestors left their families and familiar surroundings to travel here to the New World.”

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a pioneer,” Charlotte added. “I like my creature comforts and I’d pine away without the theater, the symphony, the opera, cotillions, balls and dinner parties.”

Just then Mr. Alden joined them and the two men began to talk about the tension between the United States and Great Britain over Venezuela, the Cuban revolt against Spain and the likelihood that the Supreme Court would declare the recent income tax Congress had passed unconstitutional. Miranda would have preferred to join their conversation but instead found herself stuck in one about the latest fashions.

During the meal Mr. Burton kept them all entertained with tales of his trip from St. Louis. As the two maids served dessert, Mrs. Alden said, “I hope you can stay a little longer, Mr. Burton. Charlotte and Miranda are very talented young ladies who would enjoy entertaining you. Charlotte plays the piano beautifully, if her mother may be allowed to say so, and Miranda has a lovely voice.”

“Thank you so much. I can’t turn down an offer to be entertained by two such lovely young ladies,” he replied smiling at each.

They gathered in the conservatory. Charlotte played the Moonlight Sonata and then offered to accompany Miranda, who chose to sing Ash Grove. When she finished, Mr. Burton said, “That was lovely, but I was hoping to hear a song from your native land.”

“Well, as it happens, my sister Gwyneth sent me the words and music to a song that is all the rage in Cloncurry. The sheet music is in my room-“

“We’ll send Kathleen to fetch it,” Mr. Alden said.

After the parlor maid returned with the music, Miranda began to sing a cappella:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong:
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker-bag,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker-bag,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Up rode a squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred;
Down came the troopers, one, two, three:
“Who’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker-bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Who’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker-bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong;
“You’ll never catch me alive!” said he;
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong,
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”

When she finished, they all stared at her. “I thought Australians spoke English,” Mr. Burton said arching his eyebrows. ‘I understood a few words but I have no idea what the song is about.”

“I’ll try to translate,” Miranda said with a grin. “A swagman is a drifter or a tramp. A billabong is an Aboriginal word for a section of still water by a river. A billy is a tin can you use to make tea. The tramp was camped by a billabong boiling water to make tea when a jumbuck, or sheep, came to get a drink so he killed it and put the meat in his tucker-bag, which is a bag to store food. A station owner (what you’d call a rancher) and three policemen came up and were going to arrest the swagman, but he jumped in the billabong and drowned rather than be taken. I suppose it’s actually a sad song although the tune certainly is lively. Gwyneth says everywhere you go you hear someone whistling it.” She giggled softly as she added, “Our Aunt Matilda detests the song.”

“We got to meet Gwyneth last spring when the Cartwrights traveled here for Miranda’s graduation from the Girls’ Latin School,” Charlotte interjected. “Gwyneth is very tall so it was hard to believe she and Miranda are sisters.”

“I don’t agree,” Mrs. Alden said. “It’s true Gwyneth is much taller than Miranda, but except for that there is a strong resemblance between them since they both favor their father.”

“The disparity in height is easily explained,” Mr. Alden added. “Mr. Cartwright is over six feet tall while Mrs. Cartwright is a small woman.”

“Mr. Cartwright is a very handsome man,” Mrs. Alden commented, earning a scowl from her husband.

“Since you say Miss Cartwright favors her father, I’m sure he must be. I’d like to meet him,” Mr. Burton said to Miranda with a smile. Just then the grandfather clock began to chime the hour and Mr. Burton turned to his hostess with a smile. “I want to thank you for inviting me to dine. It’s been a delightful evening, but I must be going.”

“We’ve enjoyed having you,” Mrs. Alden said and Mr. Burton turned to Miranda.

“Miss Cartwright, I hope you’ll do me the honor of accompanying me to the symphony this Friday evening and dinner afterward.”

“Thank you. I’ll look forward to it,” she replied honestly.

Miranda had a marvelous time first at the theater and then afterward at the restaurant. She decided Christopher Burton was the most attractive man she’d ever met and she found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss him.

In the carriage on the way to the Alden’s home, they were both quiet at first. Then she felt his fingers gently brush her cheek.

“You have such beautiful eyes and they’re such a unique color,” he said softly.

“They’re just hazel,” she replied, feeling very self-conscious.

“They are not just hazel; they are the dark gold color of honey and they contrast so beautifully with those long, black lashes. I’ve never seen any so long.”

“I inherited them from my father. My sister Gwyneth has them, too,” she answered, feeling the blood rushing to her cheeks.

“You know, Miss Cartwright, you need practice in accepting compliments, and I’m happy to give it to you. You have a darling nose, so short and straight.” She smiled in spite of herself and he added quickly, “And I adore your dimple. But the feature I love most is your mouth-a perfect Cupid’s bow just begging to be kissed.” He bent his head and placed his lips on hers.

She had always wondered what a man’s kiss would feel like, but her intellectual curiosity was lost in the physical sensations she experienced. Unconsciously she parted her lips and was startled when his tongue began to caress hers but even more startling was the way her own tongue responded. She wanted the kiss to go on forever, but all too soon he pulled away-but only to trail kisses down her neck and shoulders and suck on her earlobes. Suddenly she realized she was losing control so she pushed him away.

“I think we’d better stop,” she said breathlessly.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he replied and put some distance between them. “I suspected that beneath your cool, scholarly demeanor was a passionate women and I was right. May I see you next Saturday?”

Her heart was still racing and her breath uneven as she answered, “Yes, I would like that.”

* ~ * ~ *

Bronwen was awakened from a sound sleep by Adam’s shivering body next to hers. It had been over seven years since his last recurrence of malaria, just a couple of months before A.C.’s birth, and they had both hoped he wouldn’t have another.

“Are you awake, cariad?” she asked softly.

He was clenching his jaw, but managed a terse, “Yes,” before adding through chattering teeth, “could you bring the basin over by the bed?”

She knew that nausea and vomiting were among the early symptoms along with terrible headaches and chills so she got out of bed and moved the basin within easy reach and then got another counterpane from the top shelf of her wardrobe and placed it over him. It was probably only three in the morning, but she doubted she’d get much sleep because she wanted to make sure she gave him his dose of quinine as soon as the chills were replaced by a raging fever.

At dawn he was still suffering chills and he’d been violently ill twice. “Gwyneth will help me with your chores and I’ll send her over to explain to Rhys why you won’t be at the mine,” she told him as she dressed. (Rhys and Adam had initially contracted malaria at the same time so he had also experienced recurrences.) She knocked on Gwyneth’s door but discovered that she was already up. A.C. was just coming out of his room on his way to the stable.

“Where’s Daddy?” he asked.

“Daddy isn’t feeling well so he’s going to be staying in bed today,” she replied and was unprepared for the anxiety in her little boy’s eyes.

“Daddy’s crook?”

“Yes, but he’ll be right in a few days. He just needs to rest in bed until he feels better.” She saw the fear in her son’s eyes and said calmly, “He’ll be right, A.C. bach. I promise.” The little boy didn’t look convinced so she said reassuringly, “Before you go to school, you and Gwyneth can tell him goodbye. Okay?”

Gwyneth had been nine the last time her father had a recurrence and she could remember that after a week or so the disease had run its course so she wasn’t upset at the news when her mother informed her. However, they both noticed how quiet A.C. was as they did the chores and ate breakfast. “I told A.C. that you could both go say goodbye to Daddy before you go to school,” Bronwen said brightly as they finished the meal.

“Are you ready?” Gwyneth asked in a cheerful tone and her little brother nodded so they all three headed up the stairs while Mary came to clear away the breakfast dishes.

As soon as they entered the room, Bronwen saw Adam had moved to the fever stage for his face was flushed and he was muttering incoherently. She hastened to prepare the dose of quinine not noticing her son standing in the doorway, his eyes wide with fright. Gwyneth had never seen her father in the midst of a paroxysm. Hearing his disjointed speech was alarming and she realized it must be even more frightening for her little brother. She put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Don’t worry, A.C.,” she said quietly, hunkering down to be at his eye level. “Mama is giving Daddy medicine to bring his fever down. When we get home from school, the fever will be gone and Daddy will be sleeping. You’ll see.”

He looked at her, his enormous dark brown eyes swimming with tears, and said, “Promise?”

“I promise. Daddy’s been ill like this before. The last time was not very long before you were born. I was scared then, but Mama and Uncle Rhys said he would be all right, and he was.” She gave his shoulder another squeeze and smiled at him. “C’mon. Why don’t you come with me to tell Uncle Rhys that Daddy’s crook and won’t be at the mine for the next few days.”

He nodded and they left quietly and ran next door.

“G’day, Daisy,” Gwyneth said with a smile as the Aboriginal woman answered their knock. “We’re here to see our uncle. He hasn’t left yet, has he?”

“No, he’s finishing breakfast,” she answered so they headed for the dining room.

“Daddy’s crook, Uncle Rhys,” A.C. announced as soon as they entered the room and Rhys and Matilda both looked at Gwyneth with concern.

“He’s having a recurrence of his malaria,” she reassured them quickly. “A.C.’s a bit worried, but I’ve told him that Daddy will be better when he comes home from school.”

“That’s right, A.C. Your daddy and I both got malaria at the same time and we’ve both had recurrences. You can see that I’m all right and your daddy will be, too.”

“I don’t want him to go to heaven like Penny did,” A.C. replied tremulously.

“Oh, precious, he won’t,” Matilda said coming over to hug her nephew. “In a few days, your daddy’ll be right. You’ll see.”

Usually A.C. walked to school with his mate, Robbie, but this morning he told Robbie he wanted to walk with Gwyneth. She tried to have a conversation as they walked together but he was too preoccupied so she finally gave up. She kept an eye on him throughout the morning and noticed that he failed to respond when his class was called to recite. In fact, he didn’t respond until the teacher walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. Usually he was one of the best students, but today he couldn’t concentrate and missed easy questions. Gwyneth was concerned, but there was nothing she could do.

When it was time for the morning recess, the schoolteacher, Miss Andrews, asked A.C. to remain behind. “Do you feel all right, Adam?” she asked, her voice filled with concern. This was the young woman’s first teaching position, but even after only three months she knew this little boy was normally bright and outgoing. His woolgathering during the morning lesson worried her.

He looked at her uncertainly before blurting out, “My daddy’s crook.” Two fat tears rolled down his cheeks as he spoke.

Since his older sister hadn’t seemed worried, Miss Andrews realized the child might be viewing his father’s illness as more serious than it actually was. She decided to speak with his sister to determine the truth. After calming A.C. and asking him to study the spelling words he’d missed, she stepped into the schoolyard and spotted Gwyneth sitting under a gum tree reading and called her over.

“Adam tells me that your father is ill, and he is worried about him,” Miss Andrews explained. “That’s why I had to speak with him about not paying attention in class this morning.”

“My mother and I have tried to explain to A.C.-uh, I mean Adam-that our father will be right. He’s having a recurrence of malaria. It’s happened before, but A-Adam wasn’t born then. I think he’s worried because of our sister Penny.” Remembering the teacher had arrived in Cloncurry after Penny’s death, she quickly explained.

“Yes, I think that’s why he is so worried. Now that I understand, I’ll be more patient. Thank you, Gwyneth. You may go back to your book.” As Gwyneth turned to go she asked, “May I ask what you’re reading?”

“Roughing It by Mark Twain,” Gwyneth replied. “He writes about his stay in Nevada, and my father and his family actually met Mr. Clemens then.”

“Really,” and Gwyneth heard the envy in the teacher’s voice.

She nodded and added, “They met Charles Dickens, too. He was their guest on the Ponderosa. That’s their cattle station.”

“I’d love to hear what it was like meeting Mr. Dickens and Mr. Clemens,” Miss Andrews said wistfully.

“One day after my father is feeling better, you’ll have to have dinner with us and he’ll be happy to tell you all about meeting them.”

“I don’t want to impose,” Miss Andrews began.

“It’s no imposition. We’d love to have you.” The two young women smiled and suddenly realized that in spite of their roles as teacher and student, they each felt a rapport.

That afternoon when school was out, A.C. didn’t wait for Robbie or Gwyneth but ran most of the way home. Instead of looking for his mother to tell her about his day, he came in the backdoor and ran as quietly as he could manage up the backstairs to his parents’ bedroom. The door was shut but when he turned the doorknob, he discovered it wasn’t locked. He snuck in and saw the curtains were closed to darken the room but he could still see his daddy lying very still on the bed. He was so still that to A.C. he looked like Penny when he’d kissed her goodbye.

Crying bitterly, the little boy threw himself on his daddy. “Don’t go to heaven, Daddy! Please don’t go!” he sobbed.

Adam had been deeply asleep but he was jarred awake when he felt something land on his chest and then he heard the sound of weeping. He opened his eyes and saw his son was lying half across his chest crying hysterically. He lifted one hand and gently stroked the child’s hair to calm him.

“What’s wrong, Jackeroo?” he asked softly.

“Oh Daddy, I thought you’d went to heaven,” A.C. managed to get out between hiccupping sobs.

“No, Jackeroo, I’m not that sick, I promise. Right now I’m just very tired.”

“Can I lay down with you?” A.C. asked hopefully and Adam smiled at him, for he usually resisted any mention of a nap.

“If you want to. Sure.”

Gwyneth returned home expecting to find her little brother. She and her mother weren’t worried at first, but as time went by with no sign of the boy the four women began searching the house and yard for him, growing more and more alarmed. Bronwen stopped hunting long enough to check on Adam and she felt her eyes fill with tears at the sight of A.C. lying next to Adam, his head pillowed on his daddy’s shoulder while Adam’s arm was holding his son close as they slept. She closed the door quietly behind her and went to tell the others that the lost was found.

Two weeks later Miss Andrews received an invitation to dine with the Cartwrights that Sunday. She knew the family was wealthy, but she was still impressed with the large yard surrounded by a white picket fence and the generously proportioned frame house with the verandah going around three sides. A.C. was swinging on the gate waiting for her while Lady ran up to bark a greeting.

“G’day, Miss Andrews!” he called with an engaging, dimpled grin. “This is my dog, Lady.”

“G’day, Adam,” she said with a warm smile and then bending down, she held out her hand for Lady to sniff before petting her.

“You wanna come see my room? I’ve got Brownie nine pins and stamps and a Noah’s Ark and a pop gun and a hoop. Oh, and my Grandpa and Uncle Joe sent me a bag of marbles for my birthday. They live on a big cattle station in Nevada. That’s in the United States.”

She smiled at the child’s nonstop chatter and followed him willingly up to the verandah where Mr. Cartwright was waiting.

As he rose to greet her, he extended his hand, saying, “I’m very happy you could join us, Miss Andrews.” She noticed he had just a slight foreign accent, but she decided she liked it.

“I’m honored to be invited, and glad to see you looking so well,” she replied as they shook hands. “Adam here was quite worried about you.”

“I’m gonna show Miss Andrews my room, Daddy,” A.C. interrupted, but his daddy only raised one eyebrow.

“All right, but your mama says dinner will be ready in ten minutes.

“Right,” A.C. replied as he led his teacher by the hand into the house.

She barely had a chance to peek at the dining and drawing rooms through the open doors before the child was tugging on her hand to lead her up the gently curving staircase.

“That’s Mama and Daddy’s room,” he said pointing and she caught a glimpse of a spacious room with walls papered in a design of ivy leaves on a white background and an enormous four-poster bed. “This is Gwyneth’s room. It used to be Beth and Miranda’s.” This room was totally feminine-papered in a design of pink roses on a cream background with pink chintz curtains, and two canopy beds of pink chintz with cream-colored coverlets. Then A.C. pointed to the closed door across the hall. “That was Gwyneth and Penny’s room,” he said quietly. “It’s locked ‘cause it makes Mama and Daddy sad to see it.” Then he tugged on her hand. “Here’s my room.”

It was definitely a small boy’s room. The walls were painted beige and the curtains were made of green, brown and blue striped chintz. Those same colors were repeated in his hooked rug and his quilt. The low-post bed was made, but not as neatly as his sister’s. She noted an old toy rabbit made of brown velvet propped against the pillows and a large toy box painted green in a corner. There was a low bookshelf filled with carelessly stacked picture books, some of which appeared quite old and she wondered if they’d belonged to his father. The top of his chest of drawers was covered with a variety of pebbles in different shapes and sizes, a snakeskin (which made her shudder), some bits of twine and two framed photographs. One was of a serious girl of seventeen or eighteen who bore strong likeness to her pupil, Gwyneth. They had the same short, straight nose, large eyes, and cupid’s bow mouth.

“That’s Miranda. She’s in Boston,” the little boy said proudly. Then he pointed to the other photograph of a little girl of eleven or twelve and said, “That’s Penny. She’s in heaven.”

Miss Andrews saw that while the older daughters took after their father, this little girl had been the image of her mother. She looked so sweet but one could see the mischief in her smile, and the young teacher felt a pang of sorrow for the family and regret that she never had a chance to know this child.

A.C. only had time to show off a few of his treasures before Adam called to say dinner was ready. Miss Andrews enjoyed the meal and the comfortable conversation. She liked the fact the Cartwrights did not follow the dictum that children should be seen and not heard and so young Adam was allowed to participate (although he was not allowed to dominate the conversation). Just as they were finishing dessert, they heard a knock on the front door. Since Sunday was Nell and Mary’s day off, A.C. jumped up and ran to answer it. A few minutes later he returned and announced with a huge grin, “Douglas and Frank are here to see Gwyneth.” Miss Andrews was amused to see the young woman roll her eyes at the news before saying, “Please ask them to wait in the drawing room, A.C., and tell them I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Douglas asked me if you could go riding,” Adam commented with a barely perceptible smirk.

“And you said ‘Yes’,” she replied frowning slightly. Adam lifted one eyebrow in response so with a sigh she said, “I’ll go change.” As an afterthought she added, “What about Frank?”

“Why don’t you ask him if he’d like to join you,” her mother suggested with a smile.

“Oh, they’ll both love that,” Gwyneth replied with a grin. “Thanks, Mama.”

As she left, Bronwen turned to Miss Andrews and said, “Why don’t we go to the library and visit? Gwyneth tells us you’d like to hear how Mr. Cartwright was lucky enough to meet both Samuel Clemens and Charles Dickens.”

“Can-I mean, may-I go outside and play with Lady?” A.C. asked. “Please,” he added quickly seeing both parents’ slight frown.

“Change out of your good clothes and then you may,” Bronwen answered.

Miss Andrews’ face lit up when she walked into the library. It was a large room paneled in bunya pine, and two of the walls were lined with bookshelves from ceiling to floor. (There was a ladder in the corner used to reach the top shelves; at least Adam and Gwyneth could use it, but Bronwen was too short.) One wall had two large casement windows with window seats that overlooked the backyard with its lemon and orange trees and Adam’s hammock.

“Oh, you have so many books!” Miss Andrews exclaimed.

“About 1,000 I think,” Adam replied.

The young teacher was so excited that she forgot her host and hostess and walked about the room gazing at the titles. There were books on architecture, engineering and mining, a complete set of Euclid’s Elements, and books on history-ancient, medieval and modern. She found a complete set of Shakespeare and one of Molière. She also discovered the plays of Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes. She saw Plato’s Republic, Machiavelli’s The Prince and More’s Utopia. There were books of poetry and an enormous selection of novels ranging from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa to Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. She smiled to see three mysteries: The Moonstone, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four because they were among her favorites.

“I think we’re in the presence of another bibliophile, cariad,” Bronwen commented with a grin as she watched the young teacher gazing raptly at the shelves of books.

“Oh, forgive me,” Miss Andrews said, her cheeks growing pink.

“There’s no need to apologize, Miss Andrews. We’re all bibliophiles here,” Adam replied with a grin. “In fact, if you’d like to borrow a book, be our guest.”

“Could I borrow your poems by Emily Dickinson?” she asked hopefully.

“Of course. And please feel free to borrow books as often as you like,” Bronwen answered.

“With a library like this, it’s no wonder your daughter is so well read.”

“Two of them are,” Bronwen agreed with a fond smile. “Our second daughter, Miranda, is attending Radcliffe College in Massachusetts and she is an avid reader just as Gwyneth is but her taste runs more to nonfiction while Gwyneth primarily reads novels and poetry.”

“I’ve noticed she tends to spend recess reading.”

“She loves to read and, unfortunately, she doesn’t have any really close friends,” Bronwen said with just a hint of concern in her tone and expression.

“No female ones, you mean,” Miss Andrews replied teasingly. Her expression sobered quickly as she added, “It can’t help that Gwyneth has two young men interested in courting her. Frank Gibson is the handsomest young man in Cloncurry and Douglas Campbell is attractive as well. I imagine some of the other young women resent the fact both are showing an interest in her.”

“Probably,” Bronwen agreed.

“Let me tell you how I came to meet Sam Clemens,” Adam said, changing the subject.

A.C. came inside to find his teacher listening raptly to his father. It didn’t sound very interesting to him but he knew better than to interrupt so he decided to go next door and visit his aunt and uncle. They would probably play a game of Old Bachelor or The Errand Boy with him. Miss Andrews was still visiting when Gwyneth returned from her ride. The young woman was embarrassed to have taken up so much of Adam and Bronwen’s time, but they assured her they had enjoyed her company very much.

“When you finish Emily Dickinson, do come borrow another book,” Bronwen said as she and Adam walked the young woman to the gate and she promised that she would.

“I think Cloncurry is lucky to have that young woman as its teacher,” Adam remarked and Bronwen nodded saying, “I agree.”

* ~ * ~ *

The weather in Boston and Cambridge grew warmer and the first flowers of spring began to push through the soil. Miranda was enjoying her studies as much as ever but she was also enjoying the time she spent with Christopher Burton. They always managed to find a little time to spend alone, exchanging kisses and caresses. She enjoyed them very much but felt confused. She still wrote to William and enjoyed his letters, but if she truly loved him, how could she enjoy Christopher’s kisses? She wished she and William had kissed before he’d left so she’d have a basis of comparison.

When she wrote William, she mentioned attending various social functions with Christopher although she made it sound as though he were only one of her escorts when in truth he was now the only one. Mr. and Mrs. Alden approved of him and his family and Charlotte thought she was lucky to have attracted the attention of such a handsome, older man. Miranda had a feeling her own parents would not be so enthusiastic at her spending so much time with a man fourteen years her senior and so she was very circumspect in what she wrote them about Christopher. Emily, Sylvia, and Samantha had no more experience with men than she had, so she was reluctant to discuss her feelings and concerns with them

One warm, sunny April afternoon she was walking in the Common with Christopher when he asked casually, “Do you like etchings?”

“I’ve seen prints of some by Rembrandt in art books,” she replied. “I admired them very much.”

“I have some particularly fine ones at my townhouse, and if you are interested, I’d like to show them to you.”

“I’d like to see them, but I couldn’t come to your townhouse alone. Perhaps some day I could bring Samantha or Emily with me. . .” and her voice trailed off at his expression.

“I didn’t realize the intellectually curious Miss Miranda Cartwright was so bound by stuffy old proprieties”

“I’m not,” she protested so he said with a smile, “Good, then let’s go see the etchings,” and she let him guide her to his townhouse on Louisburg Square.

As she followed him through the front door into the entry she was feeling a bit nervous, for she had never been alone with a man in his home before. She hoped her nervousness didn’t show in her voice as she asked, “Where are the etchings?”

“They’re upstairs, but I thought we could have a brandy first,” he said taking her arm and guiding her into his drawing room. She saw it was a very masculine room with dark oak paneling, heavy maroon velvet drapes around the two windows, a large Chesterfield made of a rich reddish brown leather and a couple of matching leather arm chairs flanking a mahogany secretary and bookcase.

“Oh no, I shouldn’t,” she said quickly but he only smiled and said in that teasing voice, “Come, where’s your intellectual curiosity? It will be a new experience and you should savor it.”

“All right, but just a little,” she agreed, sitting in one of the leather armchairs.

He smiled when he turned back toward her, a snifter of brandy in each hand. “You look as if you’re afraid of me. Come, sit with me,” he said patting the empty space beside him on the Chesterfield.

“It doesn’t seem quite proper,” she replied weakly as she gazed into his beautiful dark eyes.

“And Miss Cartwright must always be proper,” he teased. “Now, come here.”

Her cheeks turned pink, but she got up and sat beside him, not too close. She had a mental picture of what her daddy would say if he could see her now, but she forced it from her mind.

“Try the brandy,” he suggested and she took a sip. It burned her throat and she didn’t find the taste at all appealing. He chuckled at the face she made and said, “No one likes their first drink. Have another sip.”

She took another, but she still found the taste unpleasant so she sat the snifter carefully on the floor. “It feels a little warm in here, don’t you think.”

“Why don’t you loosen your cravat and unbutton your collar?” he suggested softly and his voice seemed to have a hypnotic effect on her so she did as he recommended. He took the cravat from her unresisting hand and said softly. “You have such a lovely neck-as white and slender as a swan’s.” He moved closer and she knew she should protest, but she didn’t want to. He pressed his lips to her neck and instead of objecting she found her fingers running through his hair, enjoying its silky softness. His lips and tongue found hers and she was lost in his embrace, deaf to the voice that told her what she was doing was wrong and she would regret the consequences. She abandoned herself to the pleasure his body was giving hers. Suddenly, the shrill sound of the bell indicating there was someone at the front door followed by a discreet knock at the room’s closed door interrupted their interlude.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Burton, but Mr. Collins is here and says he must speak with you.”

“All right, have him wait in the study,” Christopher snapped irritably. “I’m sorry, darling. I’ll get rid of him as quickly as I can.”

She nodded but as soon as he left, her inner voice became more insistent. She looked at herself and saw that without her even being totally aware he had unbuttoned her blouse and slipped her silk undervest down exposing her breasts. Her skirt and petticoats were hiked up over her knees, displaying the elastic suspenders holding up her stockings and her bare thighs. She realized how easily she had nearly succumbed to his seduction. She felt a little dizzy from the brandy, but she knew this was not how she wanted to give herself to the man she loved and that man was not Christopher Burton.

What a fool she had been! She suspected he would not willingly allow her to leave until he’d had his way with her, and she had no intention of being Clarissa to his Lovelace. She quickly buttoned her blouse and hurriedly tucked it into her skirt. She didn’t immediately see her cravat and thought she heard footsteps. Giving thanks they were on the first floor, she pulled up the sash and climbed out one of the windows. The drop was only three feet so she jumped quickly onto the soft grass. Then she hurried back to the Alden’s townhouse.

She was out of breath and a bit disheveled when she arrived, but luckily none of the servants was about. She hurried up the stairs to her room, stopping only from habit at the table in the entry where the mail was placed. She found a letter addressed to her in her daddy’s neat handwriting and scooped it up. When she reached her room, she changed clothes and straightened her hair before ringing for Maureen and asking her to bring a cup of tea. She paced the room restlessly until her tea arrived and then she settled in the chair by the window to read her letter.

March 26, 1895

Dear Miranda,

I’ve had a recurrence of my malaria and since Dr. Brooke has confined me to bed until I’ve gone five days with no sign of the chills and fever, it seemed a wonderful time to write to you. By the time you receive my letter, the first spring flowers should be blooming, the trees budding and Boston and Cambridge drowning in mud. I remember all the mud everywhere vividly. I know springtime also means final examinations in the States. I know you will do well for you’ve always been an exemplary student.

Your brother and sister are receiving high marks for their schoolwork as well. Gwyneth is really enjoying school and that is at least partly because of the new teacher we hired this year. Miss Andrews is very intelligent and, equally important, she genuinely likes children and has a gift for making learning interesting. Gwyneth tells me she is especially good with the youngest children and your brother obviously enjoys his lessons, which speaks volumes for Miss Andrews’ abilities.

Gwyneth writes Mark regularly and receives regular letters in return. Llywelyn is also a faithful correspondent and your aunt and uncle share his letters with us. He and Mark are enjoying their classes and Tad-cu and Mam-gu allow them a bit more freedom than I suspect their parents might. However, they are responsible young men and no more likely to go against everything they’ve been taught than you are.

Miranda had to stop and blink back the tears that burned her eyes before she could continue, and she shifted uncomfortably as she imagined the look in her father’s eyes had he known the truth about her behavior tonight.

Your niece is four months old now and has light brown hair and I think her eyes are going to be dark brown like Dafydd’s although the size and shape are the same as your Mama’s. If you sit her up, she can remain upright on her own. She giggles and laughs and I think she is beginning to try to talk although she hasn’t said any words yet, just sounds.

Before I close, Angel, I must tell you I’m a little worried about you seeing so much of Mr. Burton. I may be wronging a fine man, but I can’t help thinking he is too old and too worldly for you. I hope you’re not angry with me for speaking so frankly. I trust you implicitly, but I know there are selfish men who take advantage of naïve young women. I know you think you are grownup and sophisticated, but in reality you’ve led a very sheltered life. I just don’t want you to be hurt by a man who doesn’t really care for you.

Oh Daddy, if only I could have talked to you maybe I wouldn’t have behaved so foolishly. I came so close to making you ashamed of me.

I hope you’ll forgive me for worrying about you, but it’s just that I love you so much, Angel, and I want to protect you from being hurt, no matter how unrealistic that hope is.

Love,
Daddy

Miranda was sobbing as she pulled out the second sheet of paper, which was covered with her mama’s sprawling handwriting.

March 27, 1895

Dear Miranda,

I wanted to include my letter with your daddy’s. I know he’s written you that he’s had another recurrence of malaria and I just wanted to reassure you that he’ll be right. He just hates being restricted to bed on the days when he’s not having chills and fever, but among the three of us we’ve managed to keep him in bed where he belongs. Gwyneth and I read to him and A.C. plays checkers with him. Beth has come by for a visit and brought Elen, which delighted her grandpa.

Like your daddy, I also want to express my concern about your seeing so much of this Mr. Burton. You are the most level-headed and dispassionate of our daughters, but even people who are normally cool and detached can be caught up in powerful feelings and allow their emotions to overrule their intellect. I suppose what I am trying to say is to always remember this man is more sophisticated and experienced than you are; don’t let him persuade you to do anything that you know in your heart is wrong.

Daddy and I both hope we haven’t made you think we don’t trust you; it’s just that we’re aware of the temptations you’re exposed to and we can’t help worrying since we love you so much.

I hope to hear from you soon about how well you’ve done on your examinations. Daddy and I are so proud of you.

Love,
Mama

You wouldn’t be proud of me now. It was only by the grace of God that I was prevented from an act that would have broken your hearts. Oh, I wish I could be a little girl again and you could hold me on your lap and tell me everything will be right, and she buried her face in her hands and gave way to her sorrow and shame.

By that evening she had regained her self-possession enough to attend Mrs. Alden’s dinner party and afterward she and Charlotte performed for the guests as usual. Once the guests had departed, she made her excuses and retired.

The next morning she attended church with the Aldens and the text for the sermon was John, Chapter 8, verses 10 and 11:

“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

The text was so relevant that Miranda found it difficult not to squirm in the pew, but she listened to the sermon with great attentiveness. As they were leaving the church, Christopher Burton approached. They were all surprised to see him since he normally attended the Old North Church.

“I was hoping I could escort Miss Cartwright home,” he said with a charming smile. She frowned, but with everyone else looking on she had no choice but to accept his arm. He quickened their pace so they were a few steps ahead of the others.

“I never realized you had such a flair for melodrama,” he said quietly, mindful of the fact Mr. and Mrs. Alden were walking right behind them. “Exiting through a window. If my attentions were unwelcome, you only had to say so. Although that was certainly not the impression you gave.”

“Once you left the room, I came to my senses,” she replied in an equally subdued tone. “I didn’t want to discuss the matter so I just left through the closest means possible.”

“You mean you were afraid it was my intention to force my attentions on you.” He smirked. “I’m afraid you flatter yourself, my dear. I have never needed to force an unwilling woman; however, as I said, you were not unwilling. If we hadn’t been interrupted, you would have given yourself to me with total abandon.”

“I view that interruption as Divine Providence,” she replied, “because it prevented me from making a mistake I would have regretted the rest of my life.”

“I thought you were an intelligent woman, a woman unfettered by bourgeois morality.”

“No, I am a woman who seeks the marriage of true minds just as Shakespeare wrote of in his sonnet.”

“The love that Shakespeare described is just a pretty fairy tale,” he sneered.

“No, it’s not. It’s an apt description of my parents’ marriage,” she replied earnestly. “I will give my love and my passion only to the man who loves me as completely as my father loves my mother, and you are not that man.”

“I doubt he exists.”

“Oh, he does,” she answered. “I just let myself be blinded by your charm and sophistication, but I know now to whom my heart belongs.” She smiled charmingly. “I’m in your debt for that.”

He returned her smile, but she found it sinister. “You do realize that if I let it be known that you were alone with me in my townhouse, your reputation is ruined. You’ll be expelled from Radcliffe in disgrace and shunned by society as a wanton. I’m sure the Aldens will turn you out, afraid their reputation will be damaged as well. You’d need a protector then and I’d be happy to set you up as my mistress. I could teach you all the ways to pleasure a man and I know you’d be an apt pupil.” He allowed his eyes to travel over her body and she knew he was seeing her in the same state of dishabille she’d been in his drawing room.

“I can’t stop you from talking, but I’d never become your mistress or any man’s,” she hissed. “I’d go back home. My parents would be hurt but I know they would forgive me.”

He was silent for a moment and then said quietly, “I’ll hold my tongue. If I’d realized you were such a little prude, I’d never have bothered with you.” He nodded briefly to the Aldens and then walked on at a brisk pace.

“Aren’t you friends anymore?” Charlotte asked, startled at his abrupt departure.

“I don’t believe we ever were friends,” Miranda replied quietly. “We have decided not to keep company any longer.” She saw the questions on Charlotte’s face and her mother’s and said quickly, “I really don’t wish to discuss it further.”

When they arrived back at the Aldens’ house, she said she had a sick headache and asked to be excused from dinner. She went to her room and picked up the framed photograph of her family taken just before she’d come to Boston. Her fifteen-year-old self stood by sixteen-year-old Beth, their arms around each other’s shoulders. Mama and ten-year-old Penny stood next to them and Mama affectionately rested her hands on Penny’s shoulders. Since Gwyneth and Daddy were the tallest, they stood behind the other four and Daddy was holding three-year-old A.C. She made no effort to hold back her tears as she gazed at the beloved faces. I know you would forgive me, but you would be so disappointed. I’m not sure I could bear that. Grandpa would be so hurt if he knew. And William . . . What should I tell him? Should I confess everything and pray he can forgive me, or should I keep what happened to myself? After all, I am still a virgin even if I’ve lost some of my innocence. Oh, I wish I had someone to confide in, someone who could advise me.

She lost track of time and was startled by a light knock on her closed bedroom door. “It’s Sarah, Miranda. Do you still have a headache, or may I come in?”

She splashed some water on her face and hoped it hid the evidence of her tears before saying, “Come in, Sarah.”

Her young cousin bounced into the room, her face radiant with happiness. “Guess what, Miranda! Daddy’s coming for a visit. He sent us a telegram and it said he’d be here in a week. He’s going to stay until it’s time for your summer vacation and then he’ll take you back to the Ponderosa.” Her happy glow faded just a little as she added, “I wish I could go, too. I miss Grandpa and I miss Applesauce.” Miranda was puzzled by the last reference until she remembered that was the name of Sarah’s little golden dun pony.

“I know, Sarah,” she said putting an arm around her cousin’s thin shoulders. “Sometimes I wish I could go back home to Cloncurry so I could see my Mama and Daddy.”

“And Beth and Gwyneth and A.C.,’ Sarah interjected.

“Yes, and baby Elen,” Miranda added with a smile. “But we write letters, and that’s almost as good as being there with them.”

“I suppose,” Sarah agreed reluctantly. She put her hands over her mouth. “Oh! I almost forgot. Daddy wrote in the telegram that he wants to meet that man who takes you places.”

“Mr. Burton. I’ll have to tell Uncle Joe that Mr. Burton and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

“Honest? I heard Mama and Aunt Pauline talking and Aunt Pauline said she thought you might marry Mr. Burton.”

“No, I’m not going to marry Mr. Burton.” She smiled at her cousin. “My headache is gone and it’s such a lovely day. Would like to go to the Common?”

“Oh, yes. Please,” Sarah replied happily.

The next Saturday afternoon when she came back from spending the day studying for final examinations with her friends, there was a note waiting for her. She tore it open and saw it was from Uncle Joe asking her to join him and Sarah and Benj for supper that evening. When she saw her uncle, she noted that even though his hair was now totally gray and there were some lines etched in his face that she didn’t remember being there before, he was still as handsome as ever. For just a fleeting moment she wondered if it had been difficult for Uncle Hoss having two such handsome brothers.

Sarah was so happy she was beaming and seeing her with her father, Miranda realized that just as Gwyneth was a feminine version of their father, Sarah was of hers. Benj was trying to look nonchalant, but Miranda could see through his façade and knew he was as happy to be reunited with his father as his sister was.

“Hello, Uncle Joe,” she said as they hugged. “It’s so good to see you.”

He replied with a grin, “It’s good to see you, too.” He looked at her carefully and shook his head slightly. “Seeing you is like seeing that photograph of your grandmother come to life.” He put his arm around Sarah’s shoulders and hugged her. “Sarah and Benj have recommended a restaurant if that’s all right?”

“Of course,” she replied with a smile.

At first Sarah did most of the talking, but at the meal progressed, Benj grew more relaxed in his father’s company. Miranda was glad as she watched her cousins with their father; she wished things could be made right between Uncle Joe and Aunt Annabelle so they could be a family again.

As they walked her back to the Aldens’ home, Joe said quietly, “Sarah tells me you aren’t seeing this Mr. Burton any longer.”

“We decided we wouldn’t suit each other.” Her tone of voice warned Joe not to pursue the matter then, but he planned on bringing it up later on the train ride home when they would be alone.

Miranda didn’t see her uncle and cousins again over the next fortnight because this was his time to spend with his children. She received a letter from William telling her that he would be returning to Cambridge in the fall to begin work on his PhD and how much he was looking forward to seeing her again. “We’ve grown so close and yet we haven’t seen each other in two years. I must confess that as much as I’m looking forward to seeing you again, I’m also very apprehensive. I imagine it is the same for you.”

Oh yes, I feel a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, she thought as she carefully refolded the letter and added it to the bundle of letters she’d received from him over the past two years. I think I love you, but I don’t trust my judgment very much right now.

She put all her worries and uncertainties at the back of her mind and concentrated on studying for her examinations, and she was elated when she placed third and her friend Samantha placed second.

“I am so happy your parents agreed to let you board here with Sylvia and me next year,” Samantha said as the three friends said goodbye before leaving for summer vacation.

“So am I,” Miranda replied. “I like Charlotte and Mrs. Alden but . . ..

“But you’ve no interest in being a society belle,” Samantha finished for her. “Now, here is my address and I want you to write me over the summer and I promise I’ll write you.”

“I’m not a very good correspondent, but I’ll try and write you both,” Sylvia said as the three young women exchanged addresses.

Annabelle brought Sarah and Benj to the train station to say goodbye to their father and Miranda was saddened by the coolness between her aunt and uncle. Sarah cried and clung to her daddy while Benj was quiet and stiff, but obviously just as unhappy as his sister.

For the first couple of hours of their journey, uncle and niece sat in silence, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Joe was not inclined to brooding and decided it would take his mind off his own problems if he got to the bottom of whatever had happened between his niece and this Burton fellow that Pa was so worried about.

“Miranda,” he said gently and she smiled at him. “I know I may be sticking my nose where you feel it doesn’t belong, but your grandpa is really worried about you and this Mr. Burton. You told me you parted company, and I sensed it was not an amicable parting.”

“No, it wasn’t,” she replied quietly. She needed to talk with someone about what had happened and instinctively she knew she could confide in her uncle

She told him everything that happened between her and Christopher Burton, omitting only that she’d found herself half unclothed (although she suspected he guessed that part of it). She looked at his expressive face, afraid she’d find disgust or disappointment. Instead she only saw compassion. “Oh, Miranda,” he said softly, “your daddy knew to teach you how to protect yourself from men that would force their attentions on you, but not to be wary of men that would seduce you into giving up your most precious possession: yourself. If I’d known what happened while we were in Boston, I’d been tempted to use a horsewhip on this Burton. Has he kept his promise to keep his mouth shut about your visit to his house?”

She nodded and then asked hesitantly, “Should I tell William what happened?”

Joe was quiet, thinking, and then he said slowly, “No, I don’t think so. You weren’t engaged so if either of you were involved with someone else, there was no blame in it. The incident is in the past and you’ve learned from your mistake, but you shouldn’t dwell on it.” He reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. “For the same reason, I think it might be best if we kept this between us.”

“Thank you, Uncle Joe,” she replied and couldn’t keep the tremor from her voice so he slid her arm around her shoulders comfortingly, and she dropped her head on his shoulder.

Chapter 3
Ben Cartwright awoke to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and his first thought was Only one more day until Joe and Miranda arrive. These past weeks while Joe was in Boston visiting his children had been lonely ones for Ben. Dr. Pascoe’s son had driven Paul Martin out to visit two or three times a week since the arthritis in Paul’s hands had gotten too bad for him to drive himself. The two old friends talked and played chess or cribbage and the visits helped to ease Ben’s loneliness, but there were so many hours of the day to fill now that he was no longer actively involved in the day to day running of the ranch. He found himself remembering his sons when they were still his little boys: Adam so serious and so determined to help his pa, Hoss with his sunny disposition and his propensity for finding stray animals or birds to care for, and Joseph with his changeable moods and his boundless enthusiasm.

“Mornin’, Mr. Ben,” Buckshot said in his gravelly voice as he entered carrying a steaming cup of coffee. “Thought you’d like this.”

“Thank you very much, Buckshot,” Ben said with a smile as he accepted the cup.

“Breakfast is ready whenever you are,” the cook added. “Ya want yer eggs scrambled or fried?”

“Scrambled, but no bacon or sausage,” Ben replied. “Some buttered toast would be nice though.”

Buckshot exited muttering under his breath that Ben didn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive. Ben smiled, for he knew there was some truth in the cook’s complaint. The last year or so food just seemed to have lost its taste, so he didn’t find himself eating as much and his clothes hung loosely on his tall, thin frame. However, he tried to do better this morning since he didn’t want Joe or Miranda worrying about him. After he ate, he sat at his desk to do some work on the books. Joe did a good job with them but he didn’t like bookkeeping any more than his father did. Poor Hoss had hated it so much that none of the rest of them had had the heart to ask him to perform that chore. Miranda loved numbers and every summer she did the books for them. And better than either of us, Ben thought to himself with a smile. Seeing her sitting at his desk working on the accounts was like seeing Liz working on them at the chandlery; it brought back such happy memories.

Before opening the ledger, he reached for the daguerreotype of Elizabeth. Tomorrow our granddaughter will be here, my love. She looks so much like you that it’s almost like having you here with me again. Of course, Miranda lacks your playfulness; she is a very serious, very intense young lady and so is Gwyneth. I think Penny was the most like you in temperament, but I don’t need to tell you about Penny, do I, love? Give her a kiss for me.

He was lost in memory when he became aware of a soft, deep voice saying his name.

“You’ve got some mail from Queensland, Mr. Ben,” Jacob said, smiling fondly at his employer as he handed him the letters.

“Thank you, Jacob,” Ben replied taking the letters readily. Jacob looked back over his shoulder as he exited and smiled as he saw the elderly man eagerly opening the first letter.

Dear Grandpa

How are you I am fine. Daddy was crook but not now.

Ben shook his head in befuddlement as he tried to understand why A.C. would write that his father was a thief.

Mama and Gwyneth said he had mulareeuh.

Oh, Adam must have had a recurrence Ben thought to himself, although I still don’t understand why A.C. thinks his father is a crook.

Gwyneth had a party for her burthday birthday but all they did was dance. Then Frank tried to kiss her and she slapped him and Douglas broke Franks nose and gave him a black eye and all the girls were screaming. It was beaut! Now Frank don’t come fishing with us just Douglas.

Your grand son AC

PS Daddy says I should tell you im Im doing good in school.

I wonder what Gwyneth will have to write about her birthday party, Ben thought, his brow creased in a frown as he opened her letter next.

April 10, 1895

Dear Grandpa,

First, I want to apologize for not writing sooner, but a couple of weeks before my birthday Daddy had a recurrence of his malaria and I’ve been helping Mama, mostly by watching A.C. He was pretty upset at first. I think none of us realized how much Penny’s death still affects him because no matter how Mama and I and then Uncle Rhys and Aunt Matilda tried to reassure him that Daddy wasn’t seriously ill, poor A.C. was afraid Daddy was going to leave him and go to heaven just like Penny. When Daddy felt better, he promised A.C. that he wasn’t going to heaven and, fortunately, A.C. believed him.

I have a feeling A.C. probably wrote you about my birthday party, or if he didn’t, then Daddy certainly will. Last year for my sixteenth birthday we just had a birthday supper because none of us really felt like a party-we were all missing Penny too much. All the students in my class were asking if I would have a party this year. I didn’t particularly want one. With Mark gone, a dance didn’t really appeal to me, but everyone else was looking forward to it so I talked it over with Mama and Daddy and we decided to have a party. In addition to the older students at school, I invited Douglas and Frank as well as our teacher, Miss Andrews, (she’s only a year or so older than I am) and Miranda’s friend, Emma Lawrence. Everyone was having a good time and I’d danced with all the boys plus Daddy and Uncle Rhys. I even danced twice with Douglas, who turned out to be an excellent dancer. Except for Daddy, he’s the only one I danced with who was several inches taller. (You haven’t met Douglas but he’s six foot, five inches tall and Daddy says he reminds him of Uncle Hoss at the same age.) Anyway, not long before the party was going to end, Frank danced me over behind our lemon tree. He told me that I was “a beaut-looking sheila” (that means I’m pretty) and then he tried to kiss me. That made me angry; before Mark kissed me goodbye he asked Daddy’s permission. I was so angry that I slapped Frank. I think Douglas must have been watching us because the next thing I knew, he came running over and hit Frank. Daddy and Uncle Rhys ran over then and broke up the fight. Daddy was angry at Douglas until I explained why he’d hit Frank. Frank is persona non grata now. I have to admit that I thought it was awfully sweet of Douglas to rush to defend me that way. I do like him, but I wish Daddy didn’t want me to spend time with him because I’m afraid he’s falling in love with me. I know I can’t return his feelings and I don’t want to hurt him.

This letter is awfully long so I’m going to close now.

Love,
Gwyneth

Ben shook his head as he thought about what his granddaughter had written. It sounded as though she was finding herself involved in a romantic triangle. He admired her sensitivity in not wanting to hurt this Douglas-and Ben applauded his defense of her-but it sounded like Douglas wasn’t a man who gave up easily. And she was so young that, in the end, it might be Douglas, and not Mark, who would finally win her heart.

Ben returned to the pile of letters and smiled to finally see one from his oldest grandchild.

April 12, 1895

Dear Grandpa,

I hope you can forgive me for being so long between letters. I am finding looking after Elen and my house leaves me with very little time or energy for anything else. In fact, Mama and I had a serious talk about that yesterday. When she implied that I was neglecting Dafydd and devoting myself to caring for Elen, I’m afraid was angry. After I calmed down, I realized there was truth in what she was telling me. I apologized and she told me she understood. She’d the same problem after Miranda was born and she felt so overwhelmed taking care of a newborn and another baby who was under a year. (I can’t even imagine; I’m exhausted just looking after Elen!) Anyway, it took her a while to realize that she had been neglecting Daddy. She told me that is a very dangerous thing for a wife to do.

After that she made an effort to spend time alone with Daddy and he tried to spend more time with Miranda and me. Last evening Dafydd and I had a long talk and he admitted that he had begun to feel he came second to Elen. Tonight, he put Elen to bed and then we had a nice supper together. Right now he is working on this week’s sermon so I thought it would be the ideal time to write you. (And I know you’ll share my letter with Uncle Joe and Miranda.)

Your great-granddaughter is an amazing child. She takes after her daddy as I’m sure you noticed when you got the photograph Daddy sent.

Ben smiled at that and glanced lovingly at the framed photograph of Beth, Dafydd and Elen sitting on his desk alongside the daguerreotypes of his wives and the photograph of all twelve Cartwrights taken at Beth and Dafydd’s wedding. He felt tears burn his eyes as he thought of the changes in the family since then: Penny’s death and Annabelle’s leaving Joe and taking Benj and Sarah with her. Blinking back his tears, he returned to his granddaughter’s letter.

. . . She does have Mama’s enormous eyes, but hers are changing from blue to brown. All the dark hair she had when she was born is gone and her new hair is light brown. (I was hoping that she would inherit her Grandpa Cartwright and Aunt Gwyneth’s curls, but her hair is straight like mine and Dafydd’s.) She can lift her head and shoulders all by herself now and she loves to play with the rattle Mama and Daddy gave her. If you say, “Elen,” she’ll look at you and sometimes she smiles or coos and when she wants Dafydd or me to pick her up, she holds out her arms to us. We are so thankful that she’s outgrown her colic just as Daddy said she would.

I really think that is all my news for now. I’ll try not to be so long between letters.

Love,
Beth

Ben smiled as he put the letter back in the envelope and then he picked up the daguerreotype of Marie. I remember those wonderful weeks when we were first married. Then I brought you home and you suddenly had two sons to care for and I seemed to come a distant third. Of course, there were times I was so absorbed in building the Ponderosa that I had scant time for either you or the boys. But we worked things out just as Adam and Bronwen did and Beth and Dafydd are doing.

He picked up the last letter, recognizing his son’s neat, precise handwriting on the envelope.

April 7, 1895

Dear Pa,

A.C. asked me to read over his letter and I think I’d better explain that here in Queensland we use “crook” as a synonym for sick. I didn’t want you to think that like Hoss and Joe just before the bank run I’d become a wanted man.

Ben smiled at that remembering the incident Adam referred to when they’d returned from a business trip to find Joe’s and Hoss’s faces on wanted posters all over Virginia City. It hadn’t struck him as funny at the time (although he’d noticed with irritation that Adam had been amused by the entire event), but now he could certainly see the absurdity in the situation. He was also more convinced than ever that the English spoken in Nevada and the English spoken in Queensland might as well be two different languages.

His musings were interrupted by the arrival of Paul Martin. After greeting his old friend, Ben explained he was reading the latest letter from Adam and offered to read it aloud, an offer Paul eagerly accepted.

. . . Dr. Brooke is a tyrant just like Paul. He restricted me to my bed until the cycles of chills and fever hadn’t occurred for five days, and Bronwen made sure I followed doctor’s orders. (You wouldn’t believe such a tiny woman could be such a bully.)

“Good for Bronwen!” Paul laughed. “Adam is what? Fifty-eight or fifty-nine? Whether he likes to admit it or not, he is definitely no longer a young man and his body needs more time to recuperate.”

“It’s hard for me to believe he is going to be fifty-nine this birthday,” Ben replied pensively. “It seems that only yesterday I was watching his first wobbly steps.”

“And I remember him clearly just before he went to San Francisco to prepare for college. He was not quite seventeen then-a mixture of the boy he had been and the man he would become.” Paul smiled. “And now he’s a grandfather.”

“And we’re a pair of old codgers,” Ben remarked wryly.

“What’s wrong with that?” Paul said with a smile.

“Not a thing,” Ben replied with an answering smile before resuming his reading.

. . . It’s a good thing I was recovered by Gwyneth’s birthday because a donnybrook nearly broke out at the party. Now that Mark is in Sydney, Douglas and Frank have both been trying harder than ever to win her heart. They walk her to and from church; they go riding with her (Douglas is an accomplished equestrian, which is a bit surprising considering his size, and he outshines both his rivals in that area), and just about every Sunday afternoon the two of them go fishing with us. If the weather isn’t good for fishing, Douglas usually joins us for parlor games. A.C. is beginning to warm up to him but Frank obviously regards small boys as nuisances, which does not endear him to Gwyneth (or her parents for that matter). I will say this for Douglas: Ever since he began courting Gwyneth a year ago, I haven’t heard of him being involved in a single brawl and his visits to the pub (saloon) have decreased because he knows she disapproves of his drinking.

But to return to Gwyneth’s birthday party. Near the end, Frank lured her behind our lemon tree and attempted to steal a kiss. My quiet girl reacted with uncharacteristic aggression. (I could plainly see the imprint of her hand on his cheek.) Douglas had apparently kept an eye on his rival and rushed to Gwyneth’s defense. When Rhys and I arrived on the scene, Douglas and Frank were going at it while Gwyneth and Miss Andrews (our schoolteacher) were pleading with them to stop and the other young ladies were screaming. Since Douglas is nearly half a foot taller and outweighs Frank by at least fifty pounds-all of which is muscle I might add-Rhys and I (with some help from a couple of the other younger men) moved to break up the fight. Alas, I fear Frank’s profile is perfect no longer. I was furious with Douglas thinking he had reverted to his old brawling ways until Gwyneth explained what had precipitated the fight. Needless to say, Frank is no longer welcome at our house and I have a new respect for Douglas.

Now, to move to a more pleasant topic. You are certainly right about the joys of being a grandparent. Bronwen and I now feel regret that our own children got to spend so little time with you or her parents. Beth and Dafydd bring Elen over at least once a week for a visit, much to our delight. A.C. has decided having a niece isn’t so bad after all although we can tell he wishes she’d hurry up and learn how to walk. He finally got to hold her the other day (with her mama and grandma sitting on either side just in case) and I’m sending a photograph of the proud uncle with his niece separately.

Bronwen sends her love, and now I think I’d better close.

Affectionately yours,
Adam

“It sounds to me as though being the father of Cartwright daughters is as exciting as being the father of Cartwright sons. The only difference seems to be daughters are fought over while sons do the fighting,” Paul remarked with a smile and a wink.

Ben returned the smile before replying, “I’m glad I had sons although Adam’s done a fine job with his daughters.”

“I’d say some of the credit must go to Bronwen,” Paul added. “She’s a remarkable woman.” He chuckled adding, “I just have this picture of Adam being bullied by that delicate little woman who can’t be more than five foot even and weighs about eighty-five pounds-ninety at the most.”

“Her strength of will more than makes up for what she lacks in height and weight,” Ben replied with a warm smile. “I admit I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall and see her bullying Adam into following the doctor’s orders.”

“Joe returns with Miranda tomorrow, doesn’t he?” Paul asked.

“Yes. I’m glad I was able to persuade him to let Bronc handle the spring roundup and the branding so he could spend the time with Benj and Sarah. I only wish Annabelle would let them spend the summer here so I could see them again,” he added wistfully. Paul wished he could have a talk with Ben’s daughter-in-law so he could tell her how much she was hurting the father-in-law she’d always seemed so fond of. Perhaps a letter would be as effective. “Still,” Ben continued, “it will be good to see Miranda again. I asked Joe to see if he could meet this Burton fellow she’s written so much about. I just can’t help being suspicious about a man in his thirties spending so much time with a girl of nineteen.”

“Yes, one can’t help questioning his motives,” Paul agreed.

“And while Miranda is crammed full of book knowledge, she is an innocent young girl who’s had very little to do with men until now. Joe, on the other hand, is excellent at reading people and he’ll be able to determine what sort of man this Burton is and he’ll make sure he knows Miranda has family that loves her very much.” He smiled at his old friend then and asked, “Now, what shall it be? Chess or cribbage?”

The next day Ben couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything. Every time he heard footsteps, he would look toward the door expectantly. Finally he dozed off in his comfortable leather chair only to be awakened by a gentle kiss on his cheek. He opened his eyes and in that halfway stage between waking and sleeping he saw the face of his beloved. “Liz,” he breathed on a sigh.

“No, Grandpa. It’s Miranda,” she said gently.

He blinked and came totally awake. “Of course, dear,” he said with a smile. “For a moment I thought I was dreaming. You look more like your grandmother each time I see you. Did you have a pleasant journey?”

“Yes, and I enjoyed spending time with Uncle Joe,’ she replied with a smile as she sat on the arm of his chair. “Oh, we picked up a package from home while we were in Carson City.”

“Ah. Your father wrote me he was sending a photograph of A.C. holding Elen. Where is it, and your uncle?”

“Uncle Joe has it and he’s helping Jacob put up the horses. They’ll bring my trunk upstairs later. Actually, I packed some clothes in my valise so I should go up and change. I’ll be right back.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek again before running up the stairs to her father’s old room, which was hers during the summer.

She returned shortly attired in knickerbockers and shirtwaist blouse, her hair hanging down her back in a braid long enough to sit on, and found her uncle had joined her grandfather in waiting for her.

“Would you like to open the package?” Ben asked and she nodded eagerly. The two men saw her face light up as she viewed the framed photograph. “A.C. has grown so much since I saw him last summer and Elen is just adorable. Mama and Beth look so happy.” She handed the photograph to her grandfather, who looked at it and broke into a wide grin.

“She is adorable and she certainly does have her grandma’s eyes even if they aren’t violet. A.C. has his mama’s eyes as well, but that is definitely his daddy’s smile.”

“Yeah, that’s Adam’s dimple all right,” Joe remarked getting up and standing behind Ben.

“He reminds me of Adam with Hoss,” Ben said still looking at the photograph. “Of course, your uncle was a much bigger baby.”

“Daddy says after Grandma Inger died, he helped take care of Uncle Hoss, but it’s hard for me to picture a six-year-old helping to take care of a baby.”

“Yeah, I’ve always had a hard time picturing that myself,” Joe added with a grin.

“It may be hard to picture, but he did. Adam could only hold the baby when he was sitting down, but I would drive the team and Adam would sit beside me holding Hoss. I’m sure his arms got tired, but he never complained. Inger had given him Hoss to hold just before she was killed and I think in Adam’s eyes that made him responsible for his little brother. Of course by the time Hoss was Elen’s age, he was almost too big for Adam to handle. But I would spread a quilt on the floor and put Hoss on it and Adam would play the same finger games with him that he remembered seeing Inger play. Sometimes I’d find him telling Hoss the same stories I’d told him. I don’t know how much Hoss understood, but he’d look at his big brother and he sure seemed to be listening. I used to get a chuckle out of Adam’s versions of my stories.”

“When we reached the Sacramento Valley, I found a kind woman to help care for the boys, but I think Adam resented anyone else looking after his brother, or himself for that matter. The friend he’d made on the journey west had died on the way and he was much younger than any of the other boys at the settlement. I’m afraid they teased him, particularly about his curly hair.” Ben sighed then and his expression was sad. “I knew he wasn’t very happy there, but I needed help taking care of Hoss while he was so young and I thought a woman’s influence would be good for Adam as well. I should have paid more attention to his behavior around the woman there and been prepared for his reaction to Marie when I brought her home and announced she was his new mama.”

“He gave Mama a hard time?” Joe asked. Pa had always told him that his mama loved his brothers just as though they were her own, but unlike Hoss, Adam had never talked with him much about his mama.

Ben answered carefully as he saw the troubled look in his youngest son’s eyes. “It wasn’t so much that he gave her a hard time as he had as little to do with her as he possibly could. He was always scrupulously polite, but there was no warmth, no affection. Your mama could feel his resentment every time she’d try and treat him like her son. It was a very difficult situation and she had to remind me more than once that I couldn’t force Adam to like her or accept her as his mother. Your mother wasn’t a particularly patient person, but she exercised every bit of that gift with your brother and finally her love was able to breach the wall he’d built around his heart.”

Joe looked pensive and Miranda said slowly, “I think I can understand. I know how much I love Mama and if something happened to her and then Daddy decided to remarry, I don’t think I could ever accept a stepmother in her place.”

“But she wouldn’t take your mama’s place; she’d make one of her own. Inger didn’t take your grandmother’s place in my heart and Marie didn’t replace either one of them in my affections. They each had a special place all their own and that’s how Marie was able to win over your daddy, Miranda. He never thought of her as his mama the same way he did Inger, but he didn’t need a mama in that same way when Marie entered his life. She became his friend, his confidante. I know there were things he shared with her that he’d never have told me. She supported his dream of attending college when I thought it was just a childish idea he’d outgrow when he settled down to a rancher’s life.” He saw his younger son relax and nod at those words and he was relieved. He didn’t want Joe to think Adam hadn’t loved Marie, but it was a different type of love than what he’d felt for Inger.

That night when Joe stopped by Ben’s room to tell him goodnight, Ben asked, “What about this Burton fellow? Did you meet him?”

“Miranda told me she’d already decided to stop seeing him,” Joe answered easily, pleased that he could answer his father truthfully, yet keep his niece’s disclosure to himself. “Her friend William is going to be working on his PhD at Harvard this fall and she’s looking forward to seeing him. I have a feeling they are much better suited than she and Burton ever were.” He smiled reassuringly. “I’m glad Adam and Bronwen are letting her board with her two friends next fall; she can still visit Sarah, but she admitted it was really a strain living at the Aldens’ and listening to Annabelle’s brother’s snide remarks about me.”

“I suspected as much,” Ben remarked sadly. Then his expression lightened and he asked, “Did you meet her friends?”

“Yes. The last day I was in Boston the children and I invited Miranda and her friends, Samantha and Sylvia, to supper. They both seem very nice, sensible girls, just like Miranda, and I know you and Adam would approve,” he added with a warm smile.

* ~ * ~ *

The color of the Queensland sky at twilight ranged from vivid red-orange to pale apricot when Gwyneth and Douglas returned from their ride. He delayed his own dismount long enough to admire the supple grace of his companion’s. For a moment he allowed himself to fantasize those long slender legs wrapped about him as he rode her, but he quickly forced his thoughts elsewhere lest his body betray him. In the beginning he had been drawn to this girl because of her looks: her large hazel eyes surrounded by impossibly long ebony lashes whose beauty could not be hidden by her spectacles, her soft inviting mouth, the slender column of her neck, and most of all, her spectacular legs and buttocks. As he spent more time with her, he found himself drawn to her quiet, shy nature, her droll wit and sense of the ridiculous. He’d always loved to read but, not wanting to be scorned by his mates, he’d kept his love of books secret until he met her and they’d had endless discussions about books and plays.

He’d been courting her faithfully for almost a year and a half now; Pentreath had been gone for seven months and he sensed her regard for him was growing. He knew she didn’t love him yet; she still fancied herself in love with Pentreath but that was a young girl’s love and he hoped he could win her heart. However, he felt he would go insane with frustration if he couldn’t at least kiss her and he judged that perhaps now she’d be receptive.

“I enjoyed our ride,” she said with one of her rare dimpled smiles. “And thanks for loaning me your copies of The Strand; Daddy and I will love reading more stories about Sherlock Holmes.”

“I look forward to discussing them with you,” he replied and then as she started to turn to take Artemis into the barn, he added quietly, “Gwyneth, may I kiss you goodnight?”

She started to say no, but she saw such longing in his eyes and thought, What’s the harm?

She nodded shyly and he bent down and kissed her. She was totally unprepared for her reaction. This kiss was gentler than Mark’s, but just as intoxicating and without even realizing it she parted her lips and invited him to deepen it. For a moment she was lost in Douglas’ embrace and the sensations his kiss awakened in her, but then she realized what they were doing and pulled away.

“Oh Gwyneth, I love you so much,” he said with quiet intensity as he gently caressed her cheek.

“No, Douglas,” she said putting her fingers over his mouth, but he took her hand in his and pressed a kiss on the palm, making her knees weaken with the sensation.

“You must know how I feel,” he went on. “I think about you all the time and I dream of being with you. Now I know you care for me, too.”

“I- I’m confused,” she said turning away from him, trying to deny the pleasure she derived from his advances.

He continued to hold her hand, then pressing one more kiss on her palm, he mounted his horse and rode away.
She stood for a moment, bewildered and frightened by her emotions and her reaction to his kiss. Then she swung back up in the saddle and rode away at a gallop.

A few minutes later Adam rode up from a different direction. A.C. had been watching from the verandah and ran down to meet him. The two of them quickly cared for Mercury and then Adam noticed that Artemis’ stall was empty.

“Your sister and Douglas should have been back from their ride by now,” he said with just a touch of irritation.

“I saw ‘em ride back,” A.C. assured him. “And then I saw Douglas leave and I waved to him.”

“She must have ridden off by herself, and she knows she’s not to do that.” Adam said forcefully, forgetting that his young son was still standing there.

“Are you gonna have a necessary talk with her?” A.C. asked curiously.

“That is none of your business, young man,” his father snapped back and the boy nodded uncomfortably. “You didn’t see which way she rode?” and A.C. shook his head. Adam thought, trying to determine which direction she would have taken, and had a sudden inspiration.

“Tell your mama I’ve gone to look for your sister and not to hold supper for us.”

“Right,” and the boy scampered back toward the house while Adam saddled Mercury again.

As he approached the cemetery, he saw his guess had been correct for Artemis was ground tied just outside. He dismounted and left Mercury by his daughter’s horse. As he drew closer to Penny’s grave, he could see Gwyneth kneeling by it and just make out the sound of her voice as she spoke to her sister. He didn’t want to eavesdrop even unintentionally, so he called her name and she stood up and faced him. He could see she was troubled, but first he had to make his displeasure with her known.

“I’ve told you not to go riding alone,” he said quietly. “If you wanted to visit Penny, you should have asked your mother or me to come with you.”

“I know, but I wanted to talk to Penny alone,” she said, refusing to meet his eyes.

“Did something happen between you and Douglas?” he asked gently, hoping it had only been an argument and not anything more intimate.

She hesitated and he waited expectantly. “He asked if he could kiss me goodnight,” she responded, looking everywhere but her father’s eyes. “I let him because I knew it wouldn’t mean anything to me since I love Mark. But I enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Mark’s kiss. So I must be wicked if I can enjoy both their kisses.”

With tremendous effort, he overcame his initial reaction to his little girl telling him that she enjoyed kissing two different men so he could give her the understanding and advice she needed. “No, Punkin,” he said softly moving closer and putting his arm around her shoulders. “You don’t have to love someone to enjoy kissing him. Life would be much less complicated if that were true.”

She looked at him questioningly and saw he was telling her the truth, but then dropped her eyes. “Even so, that’s not the worst. Douglas told me that he loves me and says now he knows that I care for him, too.”

“Do you?” he asked gently.

“Yes,” she replied slowly, “but not the way he wants me to care. Oh, Daddy, I don’t want to hurt him.”

“Your mama and I have suspected for some time that Douglas loves you. I know you believe that you can’t return his feelings, but we’re not so sure, and Douglas definitely believes that in time you will love him.”

“I’ve told you that it’s Mark I love and always will,” she replied firmly, moving away from him.”

“All right. You love Mark. But what if Mark meets someone else in Sydney and decides she is the woman he wants to marry. If Mark isn’t available, your feelings for Douglas might very well develop into more than mere friendship.”

“‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove,'” Gwyneth quoted.

“I agree, but that doesn’t mean one can only love once,” he replied slowly. “Grandpa’s love for my mother did not alter or bend, but that didn’t mean when he met Inger he couldn’t love her. And after he’d lost both your grandma and Inger, he was still able to love Marie. Loving Mark doesn’t mean that you can’t love Douglas.”

She laughed and he heard the note of near hysteria. “Maybe I can love both, but I can only marry one.”

He smiled at her then and reached out to hug her. “You’ve got me there, Punkin.” Then his tone grew more serious as he said, “You have plenty of time to make your decision. I won’t give any man permission to propose to you until you are eighteen. Mark hasn’t been gone even one year yet. Just give Douglas a chance and see which one makes you the happiest.”

She nodded her understanding and then he said even more seriously, “Make it clear to Douglas that he may kiss you goodnight, but that’s all.”

She nodded very solemnly and then he smiled and reached out to hug her for a moment before they walked back to their mounts.

* ~ * ~ *

Joe and Miranda arrived in Boston the last week in August. He arranged for her trunk to be delivered to her boardinghouse and then said with a smile, “I’ll come by to take you to supper with us the evening before I head back to the Ponderosa. Tell William that he’s invited. I’d like to meet him.”

“I’ll extend your invitation,” she said returning his smile. Then her expression grew more earnest and she added with a quiet intensity, “Thank you, Uncle Joe.”

He grinned. “For being your uncle?” His tone became more sober as he added, “If you really want to thank me, stay in touch with your cousins. Show them they should be proud to be Cartwrights no matter what their uncle says.”

“I will. I’m going to talk with Aunt Annabelle about how much Grandpa misses them. I hope I can persuade her to let them come for a visit next summer.”

“It would mean so much to him if you could,” Joe replied and to me, he thought to himself. She saw the tears in his eyes and squeezed his hand before hailing a cab to take her across the river to Cambridge.

He knew it was much too early for Benj and Sarah to be home from school so he explored the area around the train station as a way of killing time. When he decided it was close enough to the time for school to be out, he hailed a cab of his own and directed it to the row house on Mt. Vernon Street that Annabelle rented. He had to admit that it was a lovely setting with the beautiful old elm trees lining the street and spacious, well-maintained houses that Adam had once told him were built in the Greek revival style. He used the ornate brass knocker shaped like a whale and the door was answered almost immediately by the parlor maid-a red-haired, freckle-faced young woman named Kathleen.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Cartwright,” she said with a beaming smile as she took his Stetson. “Master Benj and Miss Sarah aren’t home from school yet, but Mrs. Cartwright asked me to tell you that she would like to speak with you. If you’ll wait in the drawing room, I’ll tell her you’re here.” Joe winced inwardly as he heard her refer to his estranged wife as “Mrs. Cartwright”. He thought, How strange to be married to someone that no longer cares for you and yet continues to carry your name.

The maid escorted him to a large room painted robin’s egg blue with white molding. It was a simple, elegantly furnished room, and he had to admire Annabelle’s taste. He only had to wait a few minutes before she entered. As he rose from his chair, he saw she was still as beautiful as ever although he noted it was a cool, remote beauty rather than the breathtaking good looks that had originally drawn him to her. There was some silver mixed in with the honey-blonde strands and some lines around her eyes and mouth, but they only made her more appealing in his eyes. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed her. He’d had a few liaisons during trips to San Francisco or Sacramento, but they’d left him depressed and even lonelier than before. Sometimes he considered asking for a divorce, but he just couldn’t admit that it was over between them.

Annabelle saw that her husband had aged, and looked every one of his forty-six years, yet he was still incredibly handsome. She was shocked to the core to feel stirrings of desire as she extended her hand in greeting. She’d thought she’d put that all behind her, but the sensations of his flesh on hers were unmistakable. At least he seemed to be unaware of his effect on her.

“The children will be home soon, but I wanted a chance to talk with you,” she said as she indicated he should be seated. He sat on the long sofa while she carefully selected an armchair across from it. “I wanted to talk to you about Pa. Is he in good health?”

“For a man of eighty-two, I’d say he’s in splendid health.” He looked at her closely. “Why do you ask?”

“I care about him,” she said defensively. “I-I received a letter from Paul Martin. He wrote how much Pa missed Benj and Sarah.”

“That’s very true. It’s cruel of you to make it impossible for him to see them,” Joe replied and he didn’t try to keep the bitterness from his tone.

“If only I could be sure you wouldn’t try to keep them,” she said almost to herself as she looked intently at the father of her children.

His hands were clenched in white-knuckled fists, but his voice was strong and steady as he replied, “I give you my word, and you know what it’s worth.” His emerald green eyes were bright with the pain caused by the sting of her words.

Her face flooded with color as she realized how insulting her words were and how hurt he was by them. “I’m sorry. I know you are a man of your word. It’s just that Robert . . .” and she let her voice trail off.

“I can imagine what Robert has to say,” Joe replied acidly, the bile rising in his throat at the thought of his insufferable brother-in-law. “I would have thought that twelve years of marriage would have taught you that his opinion of me is not that accurate.”

“I deserved that,” she said quietly, “but in spite of what you think, Robert is only acting in the best interests of our children. It’s better for them to be brought up in Boston with all its cultural and social advantages than on a ranch.” She paused and then said firmly, “Since you’ve given me your word, the children may spend their next summer vacation with you and Pa on the Ponderosa.”

It was all the man could do to keep from shouting for joy. Immediately deciding to push his luck at this unexpected turn of events, he added quietly “You could come with them. That way you could be sure they returned to Boston.” He leaned forward as he said the words, searching for any indication of emotion at the suggestion.

“No, that won’t be necessary. I do trust your word,” she replied hurriedly, dropping her eyes so that he wouldn’t see the spark of desire in them. Just then they could hear Sarah’s voice coming down the hall.

“Daddy! Oh, Daddy!” she shouted as she ran in the room and straight to his arms. Joe breathed in the sweet smell of his little girl and returned her shower of kisses in a like manner.

“Oh, you’ve grown since I saw you last, baby girl,” he said as he set her on her feet and she grinned in that way that was meant only for him.

“A half inch,” she announced proudly and he cupped her soft cheeks in his work roughened hands and kissed her forehead. She was so pretty with her curly brown hair and large greenish-hazel eyes, but Joe noted that she looked much too grown up in her sailor blouse and pleated skirt. Benj entered the room then and said diffidently, “Hello, Dad.” Joe walked over and hugged him and felt the boy stiffen. Well, Pa, I know how you must have felt all those years with Adam. Benj too had grown and his face was taking on a more adult look. Joe grinned as he realized that, God willing, his father would once again see for himself how his grandchildren had grown. God bless you, Paul Martin.

Miranda felt a frisson of anticipation as her cab drew up before the large two-story house made of grey, weathered cedar shingles. This was her first time to be truly on her own. The boardinghouse had five bedrooms so in addition to herself, Samantha, and Sylvia, there would be one other boarder, who might be another Radcliffe student or might be a Harvard graduate student. Who might, in fact, be none other than William Gordon.

She was eager to see him again but apprehensive. How would he have changed? Would she feel the same excitement with him that she’d always felt with Christopher Burton before he had taken advantage of her naiveté? She hadn’t noticed those feelings before he left, but she had enjoyed being in his company very much.

Mrs. Gerry, who owned the boardinghouse, greeted her briskly. “Good morning, Miss Cartwright. I’ve put you next to Miss Hopkins so your room overlooks the street.” Her face assumed a forbidding expression as she added, “A young man working on his PhD is also boarding here and I’ve put him in the downstairs bedroom. I expect all my boarders to behave with propriety.”

“Of course, Mrs. Gerry,” she replied decorously.

“You and Mr. Gordon are the only boarders at the moment,” she continued in a matter-of-fact tone, but Miranda scarcely heard her. William is living here! We’ll be able to see each other every day! She barely caught Mrs. Gerry’s next words. “He’s out now but I’ll introduce you at dinner.”

Miranda nodded and then said quietly, “Since my trunk hasn’t arrived, I think I’ll go for a walk and reacquaint myself with Cambridge.”

Mrs. Gerry nodded, promising to see to it that her trunk was carried up to her room.

It was a warm morning as she strolled along Cambridge Street, similar to late August in Cloncurry even though it was winter there. Like her father, Miranda was analytical and pragmatic by nature so she put her anticipation and apprehension about her coming meeting with William at the back of her mind and gave her full attention the delight of being back in Cambridge. She took pleasure in watching the people walking past her-some sauntering along and others walking at a brisk, purposeful pace. She breathed in the faint salt tang of the Atlantic Ocean and listened to the sounds of the voices all around her with their New England twang. She was enjoying herself so much she lost track of time and had to hurry back to the boardinghouse, knowing she was already late for the midday meal.

“You’re late, Miss Cartwright,” Mrs. Gerry said sternly when she entered the house. “I expect my boarders to be punctual for meals.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Gerry. It won’t happen again.”

“See to it that it doesn’t. Now, Mr. Gordon is waiting in the parlor.”

Miranda hastily smoothed her skirt and hoped her straw boater was straight as she followed Mrs. Gerry into the room that was lighted by the afternoon sunshine. She was shocked as she almost didn’t recognize the man that stood before her. William had grown a beard, which added maturity to his features, and she was immediately reminded of her father’s neatly trimmed whiskers. His fine, golden-brown hair had grown a little thinner and receded along the sides but his eyes were as blue as ever behind his spectacles.

“Miss Cartwright, allow me to present Mr. William Gordon,” Mrs. Gerry said formally.

“Miss Cartwright and I are acquainted,” he replied pleasantly in his honeyed baritone, which she realized was much more attractive than Christopher Burton’s light tenor and again she thought of her daddy. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Yes, it’s nice to see you too, Mr. Gordon,” she said feeling her cheeks grow pink at his warm smile as the older woman watched them through narrowed eyes.

Dinner conversation was polite though somewhat stilted with Mrs. Gerry present. As the meal ended, he said pleasantly, “I know you’ve just returned from a walk, Miss Cartwright, but I wondered if you’d care to take a short stroll with me?”

“Yes, I’d like that very much, but it must be short since I need to unpack,” she replied demurely while Mrs. Gerry eyed them suspiciously, wondering if she had made a mistake in allowing both men and women boarders at the same time.

As soon as the boardinghouse was out of view he stopped and faced her. “When I left, you were a pretty girl, but now you’re a lovely woman.” She felt her cheeks burn at his compliment and dropped her eyes. William, sensing her hesitancy, hastily added “Am I going too fast? I’m sorry.” She smiled at him then, as relief flooded her eyes, and they resumed their walk.

Attempting to lighten the mood, the young man took a different tack. “Let me tell you about my trip to Llanelli, Wales. I met your Great-uncle Gruffudd and his family and he told me to tell you Dymuniadau gorau.” She grinned at his pronunciation. “I knew I’d butcher it,” he said with a rueful smile as she correctly pronounced the greeting.

“However did you meet him?” she asked curiously.

“You’d written that your maternal grandparents were originally from Llanelli so I decided to visit there while I was touring Britain. I kept visiting pubs until I found one where a man named Owen Davies told me that Dr. Llywelyn Davies and his wife Siân, who’d emigrated to Sydney, were his aunt and uncle. He invited me home to meet his father. They were all very interested in hearing about you although I’m not sure your great-uncle approved of a woman attending college. Owen’s younger daughter, Sioned, seemed a bit envious though. They were nice people and very friendly.” Miranda realized that she must have been in his thoughts, as much as he was in hers, to have gone to all the trouble of finding her extended family in Wales. The evidence of that realization was evident as he smiled knowingly at her, asking, “Did you enjoy your summer in Nevada?”

“Yes, I always love visiting the Ponderosa. It’s so beautiful. I’m afraid I’m a city girl at heart though and I wouldn’t want to live there all the time, beautiful as it is.” She added thoughtfully, “I think after I graduate I may just settle in Boston.”

“Won’t your husband have a say in where you live?” he asked in a teasing tone and smiled when she blushed. “It’s such a beautiful afternoon. Do you really have to unpack right away? I was thinking we could rent a boat and go for a ride on the Charles.” She looked a bit skeptical and he added, “I was a member of the Harvard crew my junior and senior years, and I did some rowing at Cambridge. I promise not to dunk us.” The skin at the corners of his deep-set blue eyes crinkled in merriment, as it was obvious that he had read her mind.

“I’d love to come,” she replied, looking very flustered, for she’d never thought of William as athletic. “We’d better let Mrs. Gerry know we’ve changed our plans.”

“I suppose although I think she is rather suspicious about us,” he stated with a wry grin.

After informing a begrudging Mrs. Gerry of their plans, they headed towards the river to rent the rowboat. It was a wonderful afternoon. Before taking up the oars, William took off his coat and tie, rolled up his shirtsleeves above his elbows, and unfastened the top buttons on his shirt, revealing a glimpse of curly brown hair. Miranda was again reminded of her father, and how, when she was very small, she would watch him chop wood with his shirt sleeves rolled up in the same manner. She was impressed by her friend’s prowess with the oars and by the well-developed biceps revealed as he rowed. As they glided along the river she began to hum softly and he asked quietly, “Would you sing for me? I remember you have a lovely voice.”

“Do you have a preference?” she asked and he shook his head saying, “You choose.” She thought for a moment and then, smiling mischievously, she began to sing:

Oh where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh where have you been, charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife,
She’s the joy of my life,
She’s a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

Can she bake cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she bake cherry pie, tell me Billy.
She can bake a cherry pie,
There’s a twinkle in her eye.
She’s a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.

When she finished, he laughingly asked, “And can you bake a cherry pie?”

“Not one that’s edible,” she replied with a grin. Still smiling, he asked her to come sit by him. He helped her move carefully to the center of the craft and looked deeply into her amber eyes. “I don’t want to be forward, but may I kiss you?” he asked softly and she nodded. She was nervous just at first, but then she relaxed and returned his kiss, finding she enjoyed it very much. It was different from Christopher’s kiss, but she reminded herself that comparisons are odious. There was nothing odious about William’s kiss however. When they broke apart, he smiled at her tenderly.

“I must confess, Miranda dearest, that I’ve been thinking and dreaming about kissing you for some time. You were so young when I left for Cambridge that my feelings toward you were strictly platonic, but then as we exchanged letters, I began to fall in love with you.”

“It was the same for me,” she interjected softly, reaching for his hand and entwining their fingers.

“Lately you wrote a lot about this Burton and I thought maybe you were falling in love with him,” he added quietly.

“No. I might have been a bit infatuated, but I didn’t love him.” She paused and said quickly, “I’ve been thinking about kissing you, too. Wondering what it would be like.”

“And?” he asked only half teasing.

“It was very nice. Nice enough that I want to do it again,” and she brought her mouth to his.

A week later Miranda and William shared a cab as they rode to the restaurant in Boston where they were to meet Joe, Benj and Sarah for supper. “I’m looking forward to meeting your uncle,” he said, reaching for her hand. “I’ve always wanted to meet a real cowboy.” His lips quirked up in a self-deprecating smile as he added, “Somehow, I don’t think he’s going to be nearly as impressed at meeting an historian.”

She dimpled. “No, I’m afraid you’re right. Now my father and mother would be, but Uncle Joe is just not much interested in scholarly subjects.” She had a sudden thought and asked, “William, can you ride?”

He looked a little affronted and said, “Yes. I had a pony when I was a boy. When I was in England, a friend invited me to visit and I did some riding there. I declined an offer to go foxhunting because I know I’m not that good a rider and had no desire to break my neck.”

She looked a little disappointed as she remarked, “Uncle Joe is a natural horseman. If you were an excellent rider, that would impress him. Not that you need to,” she added hastily.

He smiled and squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I think the best way to impress your uncle is to let him see how much you mean to me.” Miranda glowed in the warmth of his smile and leaned her body into his.

Joe, Benj and Sarah were waiting when they arrived and Miranda said quickly, “Uncle Joe, I’d like you to meet my friend, William Gordon. William, this is my Uncle Joe and these are my cousins, Benj and Sarah.”

“I’m happy to meet you, sir,” William said extending his hand. Joe was relieved that he had a firm grip even if he did look like a typical Eastern dude. He was a little surprised by the beard though, as most young men in the city had been clean shaven. It gives him the appearance of a man who is comfortable with who he is, Joe concluded.

Sarah was obviously bursting with news and as soon as her father and William shook hands, she exclaimed, “Guess what, Miranda!” Before Miranda could even open her mouth, Sarah said excitedly, “Me and Benj are going to spend next summer with Daddy and Grandpa!”

Miranda hugged her cousin, whose expressive features, so like her father’s, displayed her joy. Miranda had told William of her aunt and uncle’s estrangement and so he was not surprised at the little girl’s enthusiasm at being allowed to visit her father and grandfather. William noted, however, that her older brother was much more reserved, as he solemnly offered his hand to him in greeting. “I envy you, Sarah,” he said, grinning at the child. “I always wanted to visit a real ranch.”

“Maybe you can come, too, since you’re a friend of Miranda’s. I bet Grandpa would like to meet you.”

“I know he would,” Joe said with an irrepressible grin at the younger man’s discomfiture at the child’s impromptu invitation. “But why don’t we let Miranda extend the invitation since Mr. Gordon is her friend?”

“Don’t you want to invite him?” Sarah asked turning to her cousin, puzzled why the young woman’s face was so red. She looked at the young man and saw his face was almost as red. Joe continued to grin unabashedly at the young couple as he placed his arms about his children’s shoulders.

“Next summer is a long time away, Sarah. Perhaps I’ll invite William-uh, Mr. Gordon-next spring.” Miranda said, silently praying that this would be answer enough for her young cousin to let the subject drop.

Sarah clearly wanted to say more but Joe took pity on the young couple and diverted his daughter’s attention by directing the two children towards the restaurant, while William and Miranda regained their composure and followed the others into the building.

As soon as Joe arrived at the Ponderosa, he gave Ben the wonderful news that Annabelle had agreed their children could spend the summers in Nevada. His heart clenched at the tears of joy in his pa’s eyes.

“That’s the best news you could give me,” Ben replied in a voice that wasn’t quite steady, for he’d feared he would never see his grandchildren again.

“We might have another visitor,” Joe added with a sly grin, wanting to lighten the mood. Ben raised his eyebrow in the familiar gesture, inherited by his first-born, and Joe explained. “My last night in Boston we had supper with Miranda and her friend, William. Sarah invited him to visit. Miranda and William were both embarrassed, but I have a feeling Miranda may be inviting him herself.”

“What did you think of him?” Ben asked a little anxiously, remembering how concerned he had been with his granddaughter’s last choice of male companion.

“I like him,” Joe replied decisively. “I wasn’t at all sure I would, what with Miranda saying he’s planning on teaching history at a college, but he’s not what I expected. He didn’t act superior or show off his education. And,” Joe paused and grinned at Ben, “I think he and Miranda are falling in love.”

“Then I may extend an invitation of my own,” Ben said firmly. “If Miranda is really serious about this young man, I intend to meet him.”

* ~ * ~ *

When Adam awoke, he knew it would be a beautiful spring day, just as it had been the two previous years. The beauty all around him and the signs of new life only mocked his pain and grief, and he squeezed back the tears he could feel forming behind his eyelids. Beside him Bronwen stirred so he rolled onto his back and she laid her head on his shoulder and they held each other comfortingly. They were silent until she said gently, “I’m glad Beth and Dafydd are coming to the cemetery with us this year and bringing Elen.”

He nodded and paused before adding, “It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone two years.”

She said quietly as tears welled up in her eyes, “I still expect to see her sliding down the banister or catch her stealing sugar cubes for Muffin.”

“When I go to the barn in the morning, I imagine I’ll see her currying Muffin or gathering the eggs,” he replied, his voice unsteady.

They wept together-their grief as piercing as it had been two years earlier when they’d kept their vigil by their little girl’s bedside, helplessly watching her die an agonizing death When their tears were spent, she said in a wistful tone, “The rose bush is thriving. It should be blooming for her birthday.”

“Yes. It was worth hauling the water to the cemetery,” he replied quietly. “I remembered how much she’d enjoyed the pink roses Dafydd gave the girls that Valentine’s Day.”

“And dark crimson roses are for mourning. They will be beautiful and Penny would have loved them,” she said quietly and hugged him.

Just then they heard a faint knock and A.C.’s voice said, “Can I come in?”

“Just a minute,” Adam called. He wiped his tearstained face with a handkerchief, then found his pyjama bottoms and put them on before unlocking the bedroom door. “Morning, Daddy,” A.C. said with a smile and ran for his parents’ bed and jumped up beside Bronwen, who had dried her tears as well. “Morning, Mama.”

“A.C., where is the top to your pyjamas?” Bronwen scolded after she hugged him and he squirmed away self-consciously.

“Daddy doesn’t wear his,” the seven-year-old protested and his father quickly turned his laugh into a cough after seeing the frown on his wife’s face.

“He doesn’t set a good example,” she replied acerbically as Adam got back into bed with a half smile and ruffled his son’s hair.

“Would you tell me a story? A story about Penny when she was the same age as me?” the child asked, knowing the meaning behind this particular day.

Drawing her baby to her and meeting her husband’s eyes over his head, she replied in a faraway voice, “You know Penny turned seven just a couple of weeks before you were born?” and A.C. nodded. “The day after you were born, as soon as your sisters got home from school they all came up here to see you. I was changing your nappy and Penny came over to watch. She noticed immediately that you were made , uh, differently than her and your other sisters. ‘What’s that?’ she asked, pointing down at you as you were naked on the bed. ‘That’s his Willy Wagtail,’ I said.” Bronwen glanced at her husband’s face then and saw his raised eyebrow and blushed slightly before continuing.

“‘What’s a Willy Wagtail?’ Penny asked. ‘It’s what makes little boys different from little girls,’ I said and just then you tinkled all over the front of my dress.”

“I did?” A.C. asked with a giggle.

“You got me in the face once,” Adam inserted and A.C. began giggling even harder. “You just wait until you have a son and he does it to you,” Adam said pretending to scowl.

“Your daddy probably did the same thing to Grandpa,” Bronwen added and that thought made the child laugh even more. When he was able to stop laughing he asked, “Did Penny laugh when I tinkled on you?”

“Yes, she did. All your sisters thought it was very funny. That is, until it happened to them when they changed your nappy. Of course Penny and Gwyneth were too little to do that so you only got Beth and Miranda,” Bronwen answered with a smile.

“Did Penny get to hold me?”

“Not when you were that small. She had to wait just like you had to wait to hold Elen,” Bronwen replied and he nodded his understanding. Then he frowned. “Gwyneth says Penny wanted a little sister and told you to give me back”

“Oh, I think Penny just didn’t want to be the little sister anymore, but she decided she liked having a baby brother pretty quickly, just as you decided having a niece was all right once you got used to the idea,” Adam replied, vowing to have a little talk with Gwyneth about how her little brother might misinterpret her stories about their departed sister.

“I think that sometimes Penny thought you were her baby,” Bronwen added with a smile. “Once you were old enough, she loved to hold you and she’d watch me when I dressed you and I’d let her put on your booties.”

Just then Gwyneth stuck her head in the door. “Good morning. I’m going to the barn now. Are you coming?” Adam looked out the window at the position of the sun and said, “You and I need to get dressed, Jackeroo, and do our chores so we’ll be ready when the others get here.”

The four of them were just finishing breakfast when they heard Lady bark a greeting followed by a knock at the door. A couple of minutes later Beth and Dafydd entered with Elen between them, walking unsteadily as they each held one of her hands. As soon as she saw Bronwen and Adam, she wriggled free and crawled toward the dining room table crowing, “Pa-pa, Me-ma.”

“How’s Pa-pa’s little Elen?” Adam asked reaching down with a smile, picking her up and sitting her on his knee. “Can you give Pa-pa a kiss?”

“‘iss,” she said with a grin that showed her new teeth coming in, and then she placed a smacking kiss on his cheek as she patted his whiskers.

“How about Me-ma? Do I get a kiss?” Bronwen asked and Adam, kissing his little granddaughter on the forehead, sat the baby down so she could crawl to her grandma’s end of the table. Bronwen picked her up and received her own kiss. Then Elen caught sight of her uncle sitting across the table and clapped her hands. “Cee-cee,” she said, reaching out for the little boy.

“No, say Uncle A.C.,” he corrected but she only giggled and repeated, “Cee-cee.”

“Uncle A.C. is too hard for her,” Dafydd added with a smile at his little brother-in-law. “Don’t worry. She’ll be able to say it before you know it.”

“Gith,” Elen said grinning at her aunt, who grinned back.

“Cee-cee is better than Gith,” A.C. said smugly.

That evening after supper when the family gathered in the library A.C. asked, “Could you tell me another story about me and Penny?”

Adam smiled and said, “Let’s see, Oh yes, I remember one day when you were about a year old, it was really hot and so we all decided to go down to the river and go swimming. Mama and I decided we would take turns watching you while the other swam so each of us had a chance to cool off in the river. Penny liked Mama and me both to swim with her and she wasn’t happy that she could only swim with one of us at a time. We tried to explain why, but she only looked at you and said, ‘A.C. would like to swim, wouldn’t you, A.C.?'”

“I guess you thought it looked like the rest of us were having all the fun because you nodded your head emphatically. I told Penny that you were too little to swim and then you both started to pout. I decided as long as I held you in the water, you’d be all right.”

Bronwen interrupted then. “I was scared when I saw Daddy taking you in the water, but you were giggling and splashing and having a wonderful time, and I knew Daddy would keep you safe.”

Adam smiled at her and then said, “Penny looked at how happy you were splashing and said, ‘I told you A.C. wanted to swim.'”

“I like that story,” A.C. said with a big grin.

“I have another one,” Bronwen said. “This story happened when you were a little older than Elen is now. You had started to walk but I didn’t know that you could climb out of your crib. I put you down for your afternoon nap and not very long after that your sisters came home from school. I don’t remember what the older girls did, but Penny and her friend Kate went up to Penny’s room to have a tea party for her dolls, with some cucumber sandwiches and biscuits that Nell had made. A little bit later I went up to check on you to see if you were awake but when I opened the door to the nursery, the crib was empty. I was scared to death. I started calling your name frantically and then I heard Penny’s voice.”

“‘A.C. is here, Mama,’ she called. I rushed over and there you were sitting at the little table Daddy had made for doll tea parties-with Penny, Kate, Bunny and Victoria-chewing very messily on a ginger biscuit. ‘A.C. wanted to come to the tea party,’ Penny explained and you smiled at me.”

“I went to a tea party?” A.C. repeated, obviously not liking this story as much.

“I attended lots of Penny’s tea parties,” his father replied, and the boy’s countenance brightened at that.

“I remember all the times Nell and Mary caught the two of you stealing biscuits from the kitchen,” Gwyneth said with a grin. “Biscuits or sugar cubes for Muffin.”

“I remember helping Penny steal sugar for Muffin,” A.C. said excitedly. He’d been worried because he was finding it harder to recall Penny. Not what she looked like, for there were plenty of photographs, but what kind of person she’d been. He remembered her laughing, but his memories seemed to be fading away like the light at twilight.

Adam and Bronwen sensed his relief and silently vowed to talk about Penny more often to keep her alive in all their memories.

The next morning Bronwen was awakened by Adam nuzzling her neck. “Wake up, sleepyhead,” he whispered. “Willy Wagtail wants to play.”

Chapter 4
One morning in late October as they rode together to the mine, Rhys said casually, “Matilda and I have been talking and we’d like to spend Christmas in Sydney with Llywelyn, Tad and Mam.”

Adam grinned broadly. “Bronwen and I were sure that you would. You’ve always been generous allowing me time off to visit my family, so I’m happy to return the favor.”

“Uh, we were also wondering if you’d let Gwyneth come with us,” Rhys asked carefully. “Llywelyn misses her, and I know Tad and Mam would love to see her. Since she’ll be graduating this December, you won’t have to worry about her missing school. In fact, Matilda and I were thinking this trip could be our graduation present. Quite an honor graduating at the top of her class-it deserves special recognition.” Rhys did not dare add that Mark Pentreath also figured into the picture. From what Llywelyn had indicated in his letters home, Mark still considered Gwyneth the only woman for him and he thought that his niece felt the same way about the serious young man. By allowing them some fully chaperoned time together, the two could determine whether absence had made the heart grow fonder. The older man had a soft spot in his heart for Mark and Gwyneth, as he and Matilda had been separated for several years while Rhys had attended the Technical College and he well understood the pain of being apart from one’s true love.

“It would be nice if she could spend time with Tad and Mam,” Adam replied slowly, noting with cynical humor that his friend carefully neglected to mention Mark would be there as well. “Let me talk about it with Bronwen.” His heart was heavy, for this would be the first Christmas Eve without any of his girls. You knew this day would come; you just didn’t realize it would come so soon.

He waited until he and Bronwen were alone in their room that night before mentioning it. “Oh, that means it would just be A.C. with us on Christmas Eve,” and he heard the same wistfulness in her voice that he’d experienced earlier.

“Beth, Dafydd and Elen will be here Christmas,” he replied, putting his arm around her comfortingly.

“That’s true,” Bronwen said thoughtfully, “and she’s spent so much time with Douglas lately it’s only fair that she and Mark have some time together.”

He nodded. “You know,” he said quietly, “when I first insisted she see other young men, it was just to make sure that what she felt for Mark wasn’t just girlish infatuation. I actually hoped that she and Mark really would decide they want to marry. But the more I get to know Douglas, the more I like him. I wish now I’d never encouraged him to court her because I’m afraid he’s going to be hurt.”

“I think you’re giving yourself too much credit, cariad,” she replied gently. “The only way you could have prevented Douglas from falling in love with Gwyneth was to have forbidden him to court her, but you had no reason to do that. Even that might not have helped.”

He sighed. “You’re right. He held her close before adding, “We can tell her about Rhys and Matilda’s invitation tomorrow at breakfast.”

* ~ * ~ *

It was a warm December day in Sydney and Llywelyn Davies sat in the parlor and pretended to read the newspaper, but his grandparents shared a smile knowing his mind was miles away. During the past year they had had the opportunity to get to know their grandson and his friend. There had been a period of adjustment having the young men there, since for almost twenty-one years it had just been the two of them and they had grown more set in their ways than they had realized. However, Llywelyn and Mark were both serious, responsible young men and it wasn’t long before the four of them developed a comfortable routine that suited everyone. Llywelyn was the more outgoing of the two and was soon spending his free time playing cricket with his new mates and “checking out the sheilas” although no particular young lady held his attention for long.

Mark joined Llywelyn and the others playing cricket but spent much of his free time writing to Gwyneth. After several weeks of Llywelyn trying unsuccessfully to set Mark up with a friend of one of his girlfriends, Dr. Davies decided to become involved.

It was a cool evening in early March and Mark was going to his room to study as he did most evenings, but Dr. Davies surprised him by saying, “It’s such a beautiful evening. I think I’d like to take a walk. Join me, Mark?”

“I have some studying I need to do, sir,” Mark began but Dr. Davies only said with a smile, “We won’t be gone long, I promise.”

They walked half a block in companionable silence and then Dr. Davies said, “I know I am being a stickybeak, Mark, but I am in loco parentis so I’m going to speak to you just as I would to my own sons. I think you need to follow Llywelyn’s example and spend some time with the fairer sex.”

“I know you mean well, sir, but I love your granddaughter and I don’t have any interest spending time with anyone else,” Mark replied stiffly.

“But her parents and yours want you both to see other people. You’ll never know if Gwyneth is the only one for you unless you spend time with other girls.” He paused and then said carefully, “You know she is spending time with other young men.”

“Because her father insists,” Mark replied bitterly.

“My son-in-law isn’t trying to be cruel-he just wants his daughter to be certain before she commits herself to you. You are both very young and young people often confuse infatuation with love.”

“I suppose it is logical we should see other people,” Mark said reluctantly. “But it won’t change how we feel about each other.”

“If that’s true, then I know Gwyneth’s father will be happy to give your marriage his blessing,” Dr. Davies said gently.

So Mark began going with Llywelyn to dances and other activities where he could meet young women. He met many “beaut-looking sheilas” but none of them compared with Gwyneth. Some were too silly, some too flirtatious, some too conceited, and some were just plain boring. He was sure how he felt, but he began to fear Gwyneth was no longer certain. He knew if they could just be together, she’d understand that they were destined for each other, but instead Douglas Campbell was there spending as much time with her as he could, trying to win her heart. With a bitter humor he realized he couldn’t blame his rival, for Douglas loved Gwyneth just as desperately as he did, and he was sure that was what was causing the difficulty. Gwyneth was so tenderhearted that if she knew Douglas loved her, it would draw her to him. Mark also feared she might find Douglas more attractive for he was taller, more muscular and most infuriating of all, more available.

As much as the two young men were enjoying attending the Technical College and living in a large city with all its attractions, they had spells of homesickness, particularly Llywelyn who had a close relationship with his parents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Mark missed his mother and sisters, but his relationship with his father was often strained. Jory Pentreath was proud of his brilliant son, but also envious. In many ways it was a relief for Mark to be free of his father’s constant carping that he was getting above himself. Llywelyn, however, was thrilled when his parents wrote they were going to spend Christmas in Sydney and were bringing a surprise. Mark found he was also looking forward to seeing the Davies, sure they would bring news of home and of Gwyneth.

The day Llywelyn’s parents were due to arrive, Mark wanted to give the family a chance to have a private reunion so he took his bathing costume and headed for Bondi Beach, promising to return that evening. Dr. and Mrs. Davies were touched by the young man’s sensitivity. They hadn’t met Douglas Campbell, and had no reason to judge him harshly, but they were hoping Gwyneth chose Mark for her future husband.

At the first sound of approaching footsteps, Llywelyn leaped up and ran for the door. His grandparents saw his face light up just before he ran outside calling, “Mama! Dad!” They were right behind him and there was a lot of hugging and back thumping. The older couple hadn’t seen their younger son and his wife since Beth’s wedding and the reunion was a joyful one. After greeting them both, Dr. Davies happened to look toward the street as a tall, stunning young woman emerged from the hansom and his jaw dropped in astonishment.

“Gwyneth fach,” he said wonderingly as he began walking toward her. Mrs. Davies and Llywelyn looked up then, their amazement clearly visible on their features.

“Here’s our surprise,” Rhys said grinning broadly as his father embraced his granddaughter. Holding Tad-cu‘s hand, she walked to her grandmother, the dimpled smile that was so like her father’s, lighting her lovely face.

“Oh, Gwyneth,” Mrs. Davies said as Gwyneth bent down to hug her petite grandmother, “it is so lovely to see you.” She noted her granddaughter’s eyes searching for the missing face and said with a warm smile, “Mark wanted to give us some time alone so he went to Bondi Beach.” Her eyes twinkled merrily as she added, “It’s such a beautiful day maybe we should all go.”

“Beauty, Mam-gu,” Llywelyn said, winking at his favorite cousin, after giving her an impish peck on the cheek. “I hope you all brought your bathing costumes.”

“I think I’ll just watch the rest of you,” Matilda said and Mrs. Davies seconded her, but the men and Gwyneth decided they wanted to swim.

As the five Davies and Gwyneth rode the omnibus to the beach, Rhys said thoughtfully, “Bondi Beach is so large, how will we find Mark?”

“No worries, Dad,” Llywelyn replied breezily. “Mark and I have our favorite spot and I’m sure that’s where he’ll be.” He’d started to say their favorite spot for checking out the sheilas, but stopped himself just in time. He turned to his cousin and asked, “What do you think of Sydney, Gwyneth?”

“It’s too crowded and too loud just like San Francisco and Boston,” she replied, wrinkling her nose in mock disgust.

“I’m afraid your cousin will never be a city girl,” Dr. Davies said smiling warmly at his youngest granddaughter. “But we’re so glad you are spending Christmas with us, Gwyneth fach.”

“So am I, but I hope Mama and Daddy aren’t too lonely with just A.C. there on Christmas Eve.”

“I expect Christmas is a difficult time for them,” Mrs. Davies commented quietly and Gwyneth nodded, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. Swallowing the sudden lump in her throat, she added, “It is for all of us. But Beth and Dafydd will be bringing Elen and spending Christmas Day with them and that will help. Mama told me not to worry about them and just enjoy myself.”

“Then you should take your mama’s advice,” her grandfather said with a smile, as he patted her knee comfortingly.

When they reached the beach, the two older women settled on the sand in wooden beach chairs and were covered by a large striped umbrella as they waited while the others changed into their bathing costumes. Gwyneth had bought a brand-new one of white linen with short puffed sleeves, a sailor’s collar trimmed with navy blue braid and a sash of navy blue that emphasized her slender waist. She was oblivious to all the males that gazed appreciatively, having eyes for one particular male only. She spotted him first and called his name. He turned toward the sound of her voice, disbelief and wonder warring on his features, as he considered how absurd it was to hear Gwyneth’s lilting tones when she was hundreds of miles away. Disbelief turned to unbridled joy as he saw her there and then each began to run pell-mell toward the other.

“I think it’s a good thing Adam isn’t here,” Rhys commented sotto voce to his parents as his niece ran straight to her beau’s arms. They kissed unabashedly, the sea breeze catching her now partially undone hair, affording the two some unintended privacy as it whipped forward and hid their exchange from view. The others gave them a few minutes before walking toward them, calling their greetings. The couple separated but the others noticed they continued to hold hands, the brightness of their eyes and high color of their cheeks indicative of the excitement they felt at seeing each other.

“I see you’re pleased with our surprise,” Rhys commented with a grin.

“Too right!” Mark replied, his normally dour expression replaced by an enormous grin, as he shook the man’s outstretched hand. “How are you, Mrs. Davies? It’s so nice to see you again,” he said politely to Matilda, while Llywelyn observed the positive change in his friend’s demeanor now that his cousin was here. Turning his attentions back to Rhys, he asked hesitatingly, “Uh, would you mind if we went for a walk, sir? I promise we’ll stay in sight,” he added hastily, fearing the permission might be withheld after the young couple’s daring exchange of a few minutes before.

Rhys turned to his father, winking so only he could see. Dr. Davies, as Mark’s guardian, nodded his agreement and his son replied, “All right, as long as you stay in sight.” Delighted, the pair moved away, hand in hand, the rest of the world ceasing to exist.

“I can’t believe you’re really here,” he said, feasting his eyes on his beloved’s face.

“I can’t believe Mama and Daddy let me come,” she replied, drinking in the sound of his voice and the feel of his hand entwined with hers. “I’ve missed you so.”

“It can’t be more than I’ve missed you.” He looked back over his shoulder before adding, “I wish I could kiss you again, but I’d better not.”

The walked along in companionable silence until Gwyneth said, “Oh, I almost forgot. Demelza and Tamsyn asked me to tell you hello from them and Merry Christmas.”

“They’re not very good at writing,” he said, trying to remember the last time he had received a letter from either one of his sisters. “I hope they’re well?”

“Yes. I suppose you already know that your father made Demelza drop out of school once she turned sixteen?” and he nodded. “She’s being courted by two men: Jan Trevose and Billy Newton.”

“Jan Trevose must be thirty and he’s three children,” Mark said indignantly, wondering what his father was thinking, letting his sister be courted by a man who was so much older than she.

“I know, but I think he’s the one she favors and she gets along very well with the two younger children. I think the older girl reacts to her the same way my daddy did to my Uncle Joe’s mother, but he came around and I think Jana will too.” She saw his scowl and to lighten the mood said, “Tamsyn wanted me to tell you that she’s the best student in her class.”

Mark smiled a little at that, for his little sister was his favorite. “Tamsyn really likes your friend, Melanie. She writes that Melanie, uh, I mean Miss Andrews, makes the lessons interesting and all the children like her.”

“A.C. certainly does. Daddy says he hopes she doesn’t fall in love and get married too soon because it would be difficult to find another teacher as good as she is.” She paused and added quietly, “I think she does like someone though.”

He wasn’t really interested in discussing the schoolteacher’s love life but added politely, “So I guess they will need to find another teacher then. Too bad.”

“Not if I’m correct,” Gwyneth replied quietly and dropped her eyes. “I think she may be falling in love with Douglas Campbell.”

“And Douglas only has eyes for you,” Mark said bitterly while she nodded, averting her gaze. He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted her face up. “I am not going to waste our time together talking about Douglas Campbell. Unless,” and he felt fear suddenly constrict his heart, “you’re here to tell me that it’s Douglas that you love.”

“I love you, Mark,” she replied softly gazing into his eyes. Ignoring her watching relatives (and everyone else on the crowded beach) he took her in his arms and kissed her again-a long, passionate kiss to remove any memory of Douglas Campbell and to brand her as his. “I think we’d better head back,” he said breathlessly when they broke apart. “I hope your grandparents will let us spend some time together while you’re here.”

“They won’t if we keep kissing like that,” she said with a sigh. “Maybe they’ll let Llywelyn be our chaperone; he’ll let us spend some time alone.”

“Maybe,” he agreed although privately he suspected his best friend had a strong protective streak when it came to his cousins, especially this one.

* ~ * ~ *

After Gwyneth and the Davies left for Sydney early in December, the mood at the Cartwright home was somber and subdued. Adam and Bronwen were so depressed they didn’t even notice how A.C. moped about during the evenings when they refused his requests to play a game or sing saying, “Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.” But tomorrow never came and the child grew more lonely and more miserable. The Joneses came for Sunday dinner as usual and after the meal, Dafydd asked his in-laws to come for a walk. Beth had seen her husband’s silent signal and said, “I think Elen would like to play with her Uncle A.C. She loves to play catch with your cloth ball, little brother. We could all three play.”

“Right,” A.C. said with more enthusiasm than he’d shown throughout the entire meal and ran to get his old ball. Adam looked at his son-in-law with a raised eyebrow, but Dafydd only said, “It’s a beautiful day; it’s not too hot for December and I know you love to walk, Mam.”

Once they were out of sight of the house Dafydd stopped and said, “I need to talk to you both, not as your son-in-law but as your minister.” Adam and Bronwen exchanged glances as Dafydd continued. “I know this is a very difficult time for you both and this year is especially difficult with Gwyneth in Sydney, but for A.C.’s sake if for no other reason, you must try to be more cheerful. He misses his sisters, too, and he needs you to show him that even if it’s just the three of you, you will still have a merry Christmas. If it will help, Bethan, Elen and I will join you on Christmas Eve.”

“No,” Bronwen said firmly. “That is a special time for your family and the three of you should spend it together.” She smiled faintly at her son-in-law. “You’ve made us aware of how our sadness is affecting A.C. so we’ll make an extra effort to be cheerful.”

“I suppose we knew we were communicating our sadness to A.C. but we just didn’t want to admit it,” Adam stated. “Thanks, Dafydd,” and he squeezed the younger man’s shoulder.

Dafydd said cheerfully, “It is a beautiful day for a walk and I think A.C. would like a chance to spend time with his sister and his niece.”

When they returned Adam announced, “I feel like singing. How about you, Jackeroo?”

“Right,” the little boy replied, his brown eyes sparkling and his dimple very much in evidence as he grinned. “Let’s teach Elen to sing Sosban Fach.”

“And then let’s sing some Christmas carols since Christmas is only two weeks away,” Beth suggested.

“Stone the crows! I haven’t bought my gifts yet!” A.C. exclaimed. He had been saving part of his allowance for weeks so he could buy his gifts for his mama and daddy. “May I go to Mr. Broome’s shop tomorrow?”

“We’ll go,” Bronwen said with a smile. “I promise I won’t watch what you buy.”

Seeing her baby brother’s pout, Beth added, “I was almost thirteen and Miranda was twelve before we got to go shopping on our own. I remember because that was the year we all put our money together to buy yarn so I could crochet a coverlet for you.”

“That’s right,” Adam said with a smile. “You got your first Christmas present before you were even born, A.C. Beth crocheted while Miranda, Gwyneth and Penny did her chores for her. On Christmas Eve they surprised us with the coverlet for your crib.”

“Fair dinkum?” A.C. asked and Beth nodded with a smile. “Could Bethy come shopping with me? That way I wouldn’t be alone.”

“Oh, I’d love to A.C., but Elen doesn’t really like shopping,” Beth said regretfully.

“Leave Elen with me,” Bronwen suggested. “She’s old enough to be away from you for an hour or so. In fact, it would be good for her.”

“I don’t know-“Beth began but Adam interrupted.

“Your mama is right, Princess. Elen needs to be independent.”

“All right,” Beth said, to her little brother’s relief, for it seemed more grownup to go Christmas shopping with his big sister rather than his mama.

After the Joneses left, Adam turned to his son. “I was just thinking that I should carve an ornament for Elen. Would you like to paint it when it’s done?”

“Too right! What are you gonna carve?”

“I don’t know,” Adam replied gravely. “What do you suggest?”

He bit his cheek to keep a straight face as he watched his son scowl in concentration. A.C. thought of his roo ornament and his sisters’ ornaments-Beth’s pony, Miranda’s camel, Gwyneth’s dingo and Penny’s kitten. His scowl transformed to an enormous smile. “I think Elen would like a koala,” he announced.

“I think that’s an excellent choice,” Adam replied with a big grin of his own. “I’ll get a piece of maple tomorrow and get started on it.”

“If I had a knife, I could help carve,” A.C. suggested hopefully and his daddy smiled his little half smile.

“You’ll get a knife for your ninth birthday just like I did.”

“Aw, Daddy, couldn’t I have one now? I’m tall as Ned Ormsby and he’s nine,” A.C. wheedled.

“Your Uncle Hoss was tall for his age but Grandpa didn’t let him have a knife until he was nine.” Adam ignored his son’s pout and suggested, “Why don’t we see if Lady would like to play fetch?” They both smiled as the little terrier perked up her ears at the sound of her name. A.C.’s sulks were forgotten as he ran out the backdoor with his dog at his heels while Adam followed, shaking his head at his son’s mercurial temperament, so like Joe’s at that age.

The next morning as soon as breakfast was finished, A.C. was waiting impatiently for his sister’s arrival. He heard Beth and Elen before he saw them because Elen was crying loudly. Bronwen had also heard her granddaughter’s screams so she and A.C. hurried to their front gate to meet the Joneses.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Beth said as she patted her screaming child’s back in an attempt to comfort her. “Elen’s teething.”

“Beth fach, I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with teething children,” Bronwen replied in an amused tone.

“I know,” Beth said quickly, “but she’s very clingy when she’s teething.”

“She’ll be apples,” Bronwen said firmly holding out her arms for her granddaughter. She saw that her first-born hadn’t exaggerated about her daughter’s clinging-Beth practically had to pry Elen’s arms from around her neck. Even then, Elen squirmed and tried to get away from her grandma and go back to her mama’s arms.

A.C. had been watching in silence but now spoke up. “I didn’t cry that much, did I?”

“Oh yes. You and Penny both were not at all shy about letting everyone in earshot know you were suffering when your teeth were coming in,” his mama replied with a grin. “Miranda was lucky and didn’t seem to be in as much pain. Gwyneth cried but not as loudly as you and Penny. Beth,” and she smiled at her first-born, “fell somewhere in between. Gwyneth was the hardest to deal with though because she didn’t like me to hold her. She was very much her daddy’s girls and only he could really soothe her.” She sighed a little knowing her third child was still closer to her daddy than to her.

Since Elen was still screaming and trying to get back to her mama, Bronwen said, “I think she’ll settle down more quickly when you’re out of sight.

Reluctantly Beth nodded and saying, “Goodbye, Elen fach, Mama will be back soon,” and she kissed her baby’s cheek. As she and A.C. walked toward Cloncurry’s tiny business district, Elen’s screams increased.

“I’ve been saving money from my allowance so I could buy Mama and Daddy something really beaut,” A.C. confided to his sister as they walked along and she smiled at him. This was Cloncurry’s wet season so the tussocks of tall Mitchell grasses were flourishing and occasionally, as the sister and brother walked along past the houses with white picket fences, they would see one with a flowerbox on the verandah filled with red and pink sweet peas, lavender blue petunias or red and white carnations. Since it was summer vacation, A.C. saw many of his mates playing in the sunshine. Terriers like Lady would run up barking if the siblings passed too close to their yard.

It wasn’t long before the two of them reached Broome’s shop. A.C. walked around looking while his sister remained silent, for she’d decided beforehand not to offer suggestions unless her little brother requested them. She remembered how much she had wanted to be allowed to make her own choices at his age. A.C. thought he’d saved lots of money until he started looking at the prices of merchandise. He looked longingly at a leather wallet for his daddy, but it cost much more than what he’d saved. He saw a pretty lawn handkerchief decorated with lace trim and an embroidered nosegay of violets and roses, but when he asked Mrs. Broome how much it cost, like the wallet it was beyond his reach. His big sister saw the disappointment and apprehension on his face and started to offer him some money. Just before she spoke, she remembered how independent he was becoming and so instead she said kindly, “Why don’t you tell Mrs. Broome and me how much you can spend, and then we can help you find something Mama and Daddy would like.”

“I’ve got two shillings and sixpence,” A.C. replied in a small voice.

Beth thought for a moment and then said with a smile, “Mama loves peppermint drops.”

“I could put them in a nice box with a pretty bow,” Mrs. Broome added.

“Right,” A.C. said dimpling, but then he asked anxiously, “What about Daddy’s gift?”

“Well, let me see,” Mrs. Broome said thoughtfully. “I know the very thing,” she said snapping her fingers. “We just got some new suspenders and they cost a shilling so you could buy a pair for your daddy and buy your mama a shilling’s worth of peppermint drops. You’d still have sixpence to spend on yourself. Or maybe you’d like to buy something for your niece.”

“What would Elen like?” he asked Beth. “She’s too little to eat candy.”

“Here’s a cloth ball just like yours,” Beth suggested. “Elen would love it and it only costs four pennies so you’d have tuppence to spend on yourself.”

“Beauty!” he said with an enormous grin. Then he turned to Mrs. Broome. “I’ll have the cloth ball and a penny’s worth of toffee, please.” He looked at his sister then with his most engaging grin and said, “I’ll buy you a penny’s worth, too. What kind would you like?”

Beth wasn’t that fond of candy but knew her baby brother would be crushed if she refused his magnanimous offer, so she replied, “I like licorice.”

“Let me show you the suspenders,” Mrs. Broome interjected, “so you can decide which ones you want to give your dad.”

A.C. looked at them all very carefully and picked out a pair that was dark blue with a design of red flowers and shiny brass buckles. It was a very proud little boy that walked home at his sister’s side holding his packages with their red velvet bows and sucking a piece of toffee.

After her son and daughter carefully shut the gate behind them and headed for Broome’s shop, Bronwen said in a soft, soothing voice, “You know, Elen fach, right now you are reminding me of your Aunt Penny.” As she carried her screaming granddaughter up the path to the house, she added, “Sometimes rocking would soothe her, so let’s see if it works with you. I wish I had some of my teething tea. I gave your mama the recipe but I have a feeling she thinks it’s too old-fashioned. If I can get you to calm down a bit, I’m going to make a batch.”

Rocking had no effect whatsoever. Elen only screamed louder for her mama and was absolutely rigid in Bronwen’s arms. “I do believe you are as impossible to comfort as your Aunt Gwyneth was,” Bronwen said, trying to remain calm even though she was beginning to develop a headache. “Maybe if I can get your mind on something else, you’ll stop screaming. Let’s see if you’ll like Uncle A.C.’s Noah’s Ark.”

She was successful in diverting Elen’s attention with the Noah’s Ark, but unfortunately Elen had the normal attention span of a thirteen-month-old toddler and it wasn’t long at all before she began missing her mother. Bronwen grabbed one of A.C.’s cloth books and the screaming child and took them downstairs to the kitchen. She put Elen in the old highchair Adam had made that had been used by all five of their children and gave her A.C.’s book, which she promptly threw on the floor.

“All right, Elen fach, if you don’t want to look at the book, then you can just sit there and watch me-ma make you some teething tea,” she said as serenely as she could. “I put in a little dried chamomile, a little catnip, a little lavender and a little lemon balm,” she said, continuing to converse in a quiet tone as she took a little of the herbs from the dried bunches that hung under a shelf. “I got this recipe from Hop Sing. I know you never had a chance to meet him, but he was a remarkable man. Gave me some wonderful advice on handling your grandpa when he’s sick. I think you get your stubbornness from him. Your grandpa, that is, and not Hop Sing.” She smiled a little as she added, “Although I have a feeling he’d say it was the other way round and I’m the one you take after.” Elen’s screams began to die down to hiccupping sobs as she listened to her grandmother’s quiet voice and watched her mix the herbs in a jar and cover them with water. “Now, in about half an hour we can both have some tea,” Bronwen said smiling at her granddaughter. “Teething tea is good for mamas and grandmas, too.” Just then Lady, who’d been patrolling her territory on the lookout for snakes and other vermin, scratched on the backdoor. As soon as Bronwen opened the door, the little terrier trotted in and seeing her, the child grinned and said happily, “Lady!”

“Would you like to play with Lady?” Bronwen asked. The little girl nodded vigorously so Bronwen lifted her out of the chair and watched the terrier come up and lick the child’s face while she giggled. Bronwen smiled as she sat in one of the kitchen chairs and watched her granddaughter chase the little dog around the kitchen. Or maybe Lady is chasing Elen, she thought smiling more broadly.

When Beth and A.C. returned from their shopping expedition, they found Bronwen and Elen sitting on the verandah on the swing, with Lady between them, sipping teething tea.

Adam and A.C. finished Elen’s koala ornament December 23 and decided to give it to her on Christmas. That Christmas Eve as the three of them decorated the Christmas “tree”, their gaiety seemed forced for they were all thinking of the missing family members: Miranda in Boston, Gwyneth in Sydney, and Penny. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Adam asked A.C. if he’d like to hang his sisters’ ornaments on the tree and the youngster agreed readily. He hung the little pony, camel and dingo and started to ask where the kitten was, but then he remembered how sad his parents had been last Christmas when he’d found Penny’s ornament, so he didn’t say anything.

Adam stepped back from the tree after they’d finished and immediately determined what was missing. Reaching down into the tissue laden box, he tenderly lifted the final ornament from its nest, and held it up for the others to see. Gone from our sight, but forever in our hearts, Kitten, he thought wistfully as Bronwen nodded her agreement and he added the precious reminder of their little girl to the family’s tree. A.C. looked from one parent to the other, and felt a quiet peace within him. His sisters may not always be there where he could see them, but they would always be a part of him and their family. That Christmas tradition would never change.

They’d always gone Christmas caroling with the Davies but when Bronwen suggested going on their own, A.C. replied that he didn’t want to and his parents didn’t press the point. Instead, they gathered in the drawing room, with A.C. sitting between his mother and father on the settee, and Adam read A Christmas Carol, doing different voices for each character except Tiny Tim. He let A.C. read Tim and was rewarded by the look of delight on his son’s face.

When they gathered back in the drawing room after supper, A.C. begged them to open his gifts to them. He decided to open the gift Miranda had sent him, which was an illustrated copy of Treasure Island.

“I think you’ll like this story, Jackeroo, and we’ll start reading it aloud tomorrow night,” Adam said ruffling his son’s hair. “Now, let’s see what you got Mama.”

Bronwen undid the bow and lifted the lid of the box and exclaimed, “Peppermint drops! My favorite. Thank you, A.C. bach.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek and he beamed at her. “Why don’t we each have one?” She held out the box and they each picked up a piece of candy and popped it in their mouths.

“Now you open yours, Daddy,” the little boy said around his candy, but his parents decided not to reprimand him for speaking with his mouth full.

“Now that’s what I call a fine-looking pair of suspenders,” Adam said with a grin as he held them up for Bronwen to admire.

“I picked them out myself,” the seven-year-old said proudly.

“I’m going to wear them tomorrow in my shirtsleeves so everyone can see them,” his daddy replied. “Now, can you and Mama help me recite A Visit from St. Nicholas?”

“Too right!” the little boy replied enthusiastically, the glow of childish anticipation bright in his dark brown eyes. When they finished reciting the poem, the child listened quietly to his father’s honeyed voice as he read the story of the Jesus’ birth in a stable and how the shepherds were visited by angels telling them of the wondrous event. Then his mother’s soft, sweet voice read the story of the wise men from the east who followed a star until it led them to Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and how an angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus away to protect him from the murderous Herod. A.C.’s eyelids were drooping as he walked up the stairs to his bedroom and he fell asleep almost as soon as his parents tucked him in and kissed him goodnight.

The next morning, Adam and Bronwen were surprised not to be awakened before dawn by their youngest child. They lay anxiously in their bed until they saw the first light in the east and then she said, “I’m going to check on him.”

“I’ll come with you,” he replied, donning his pyjamas and robe and hurrying down the hall to their son’s room.

When they entered A.C.’s room, they heard his quiet sobs and Bronwen rushed to her baby’s side.

“A.C. bach, what wrong? Are you sick?” she asked anxiously as she gently smoothed the wavy dark hair back from the cool forehead.

“I m-miss G-gwenyth,” he got out between sobs.

Bronwen sank to the bed and cradled the forlorn little face in gentle hands while Adam sat on the other side and said softly, “So do Mama and I, but we’re glad Tad-cu and Mam-gu get to spend a Christmas with her. Besides, there’s a pile of presents downstairs under the tree with your name on them and in a little bit Beth and Dafydd and Elen will be here. We can give Elen the ornament we made her and you can show them all the gifts you got. I’ll be wearing my brand-new suspenders to show them off and Mama will share her peppermint drops.”

“We’ll have a wonderful Christmas; you’ll see,” Bronwen promised and dropped a kiss on her little boy’s forehead.

A few days before the Davies and Gwyneth were due back from Sydney, Bronwen stopped at the post office on her way to visit her daughter and granddaughter and discovered a letter from Miranda.

“The postmark isn’t Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Beth remarked as she looked over her mother’s shoulder while cradling her dozing daughter, “it’s Wilmington, Delaware. I wonder why she’s writing from there?” The three of them were on the verandah where they’d gone to escape the stifling heat in the house.

“Why don’t you three come have supper with us tonight,” her mother suggested. “Then we can read Miranda’s letter after we eat.”

“Elen and I can come, but Dafydd’s been called to the Blairs’ station,” Beth observed. “One of their little boys has been in an accident so Dafydd wanted to see if they needed anything. He told me not to wait up for him because it will be late when he returns.”

“Leave a note and tell him where you and Elen are in case he gets back earlier than he expects,” Bronwen recommended and dropped a kiss on both her first daughter and first granddaughter’s cheeks before leaving for her own home.

That evening after supper the family gathered in the library to listen to Adam read Miranda’s letter.

December 23, 1895

Dear Family,

You probably noticed that I am not writing you from Cambridge but from Wilmington, Delaware. ‘And why are you in Wilmington, Delaware?’ you ask. I’m here because William’s parents invited me to spend Christmas with them. I was a bit surprised but he pointed out it is the same as Uncle Joe wanting to meet him, and I realized he was right. In fact, I’m sure Uncle Joe shared his opinion of William with you and with Grandpa.

Beth snickered at that and her father raised his eyebrow at her in that certain way he had, but she only grinned cheekily and Adam had to smile back at her clever deduction.

We travelled together by train and it was a fairly short journey. I’ll tell you one thing I learned immediately: Wilmington is even colder than Boston! William’s family lives in a lovely red-brick Georgian house. (He told me his great-great-great-grandfather built it a few years before the American Revolution, and he also founded the family law firm and served in Washington’s army.) That night at dinner I met not only William’s parents but several aunts and uncles and cousins. I like his father well enough but his mother is up herself. (She comes from a Main Line family; that meant nothing to me until William explained it’s what they call the socially elite families in Philadelphia, where she was born.)

That very first evening Mrs. Gordon announced at dinner how surprised she was that William was courting a foreigner. William immediately pointed out that since my father is American, I am as well. He informed everyone that our family owns a large ranch in Nevada. One of his uncles (the husband of one of Mr. Gordon’s sisters) then asked me if my family owned the Ponderosa. When I answered yes, he announced that he’d had business dealings with us. He is on the Board of Directors of the Central Pacific Railroad and they’d used Ponderosa timber for a trestle they built. He added that the Ponderosa is one of the largest ranches in the entire western United States.

Mrs. Gordon just sniffed and said it was “new money”. She made me so angry that I spoke up and said my grandfather’s family had been living in Massachusetts since 1660 and my grandmother’s family since 1639. Mrs. Gordon turned very red and she ignored me for the rest of the meal, but William’s uncle, Mr. Logan, made a point of talking with me. He told me that he’d had the pleasure of meeting Grandpa and wanted to know which of his sons was my father. When I told him, he said he remembered meeting you as well, Daddy. . . .

Adam stopped reading for a moment. “I remember the job for the Central Pacific Railroad. For a while there, we were afraid we weren’t going to be able to meet the terms of the contract and it would have gone to Barney Fuller.”

“Tom Fuller’s grandfather?” Bronwen inquired, for they’d traveled from Carson City to Boston with the young man when they’d enrolled Miranda in the Girls’ Latin School. Adam nodded adding, “I’m not sure if I remember this Mr. Logan, but Pa was the one who handled the negotiations. I only met some of the Board members after we’d completed delivering the lumber.”

“I wanna hear Manda’s letter,” A.C. declared loudly earning a frown from both parents. “Please,” he added hastily and his daddy resumed his reading.

He was very interested in Cartwright & Davies Mining Company and about life in the Outback. Just before the meal ended, he winked at me and told me he thought his nephew showed good sense in courting such a pretty and intelligent young lady. Then he lowered his voice so only I could hear and said not to mind Mrs. Gordon or judge the whole family by her. I could see William was embarrassed and he apologized for his mother’s behaviour later when we managed to have a few minutes alone.

After dinner the older generation broke into one group that moved to the front parlour while William, his cousins and I formed another. They have a piano in one large room so we moved the furniture against the walls and one of the cousins played a new type of music called ragtime while we danced the Cakewalk and the Quickstep. It was beaut! William is a wonderful dancer. (Somehow I had always thought of him as scholarly, but he’s actually athletic as well. He was a member of the Harvard Crew and this fall we rented a boat and went for rides on the Charles several times. He and Sylvia were also teaching Samantha and me to play tennis. I’m looking forward to playing again in the spring.)

“I used to play tennis with my friends,” Bronwen interjected. “I enjoyed it almost as much as swimming.”

“While I was at Harvard, Thomas Collingsworth taught my roommate, Aaron, and me to play,” Adam added, “but I haven’t played since I left Cambridge. I do remember that it was lots of fun. It’s a little like Battledore and Shuttlecock,” he added for his son’s benefit.

“I wanna play Battledore and Shuttlecock,” A.C. announced. “We haven’t played it for a long time.”

“Summer vacation is almost over so why don’t you invite Robbie and some of your other friends over tomorrow?” Bronwen suggested and then added, “but right now, I would like to hear the rest of your sister’s letter.” A.C. nodded and Adam continued.

It’s late and so I think I’ll go to bed now but I’ll continue my letter on Christmas.

December 25, 1895

It’s very late but I wanted to finish this before I went to sleep. I miss you all terribly at Christmas. I think about all the ones we spent together and how happy we were then. I know it will never be the same and that almost makes me cry.

I don’t want this letter to be sad though. First, I want to thank you for my lovely gifts and I hope you all enjoyed yours. Christmas in Wilmington is quite similar to Christmas in Cloncurry and Boston. We all decorated the house and the Christmas tree, and then William and I went carolling on Christmas Eve. (Judging from his parents’ reaction, I don’t think he normally does. I thought it was sweet of him to come since he knows I always go carolling in Boston.) After we finished, I went to church with the Gordons. (They attend the West Presbyterian Church. This is a good time to mention that I no longer attend the Park Street Church; Sylvia and I attend the Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge and William usually attends with us. It wasn’t there when you attended Harvard, Daddy. It is built in the Romanesque style. It’s constructed of red granite with sandstone trimming and the tower is 110 feet high. It is a lovely building and when you all come to Cambridge for my graduation, I’ll be sure and show it to you.) Christmas morning everyone gathered in the drawing room to open gifts. William got me a beautiful edition of Descartes’ La Géométrie and I gave him one of Lord Macaulay’s The History of England I found at the Corner Bookstore. We were both pleased with our gifts even if his mother thought them odd.

Adam and Bronwen exchanged knowing looks since their love of reading and books was what initially brought them together and had always been a source of great happiness for them both.

Christmas dinner was at the home of William’s oldest uncle, who is now the head of the family law firm. (Almost all William’s cousins are solicitors in the family firm, save the one who is a physician and the other who is now a member of the state legislature.) Most of his aunts and female cousins thought it very odd I was attending Radcliffe rather than balls and soirees but one cousin named Geraldine confided she was trying to convince her parents to let her attend Radcliffe or Vassar. After dinner we played Charades and some other parlour games. It was pleasant, but it made me miss all of you even more.

William’s father and I get along well enough although I think he believes going to Radcliffe is a phase I’m going through and he is a bit condescending about the idea of women having a higher education. I don’t think his mother and I are ever going to be friends though. We’ll be headed back to Cambridge (and our studies) the day after tomorrow.

With all my love
Miranda

About two weeks later, Beth received a letter from Miranda. She waited until Elen was down for her afternoon nap before taking it on the verandah (where it was a bit cooler) to read.

January 5, 1896

Dear Beth,

William and I have returned to Cambridge. Meeting his family was certainly an interesting experience. Most of his cousins were nice enough. The young, unmarried female cousins seemed concerned only with who is courting whom, or who will be the next to receive a proposal of marriage. The married ones are only interested in hosting dinner parties or discussing their children. The aunts are involved in committees of some sort. Most of them have something to do with cultural events but at least one aunt and her daughter spend time working at the Mission School that the West Presbyterian Church has established. (Most of the people who live in the neighbourhood around the church are recent immigrants from Italy who don’t speak English so I applaud the church for starting a school to teach them the language.) The men in William’s family are all interested in business, politics and sports.

I have to say I think you are lucky your mother-in-law lives on a different continent. Mrs. Gordon is up herself and she clearly believes William will soon grow bored with me and find a girl his social equal. His parents want him to give up on the idea of teaching history; he told me on the trip back to Cambridge that they both suggested he give up work on his PhD and enter the Harvard Law School instead. (He was able to work on his Master’s in history at Cambridge University and now his PhD because one of his great-aunts left him a legacy. William says she was his favourite relative and that we would have gotten along famously since she was a staunch proponent of women’s rights.) Anyway, I’m grateful that if we should marry, we won’t be living in Wilmington so I wouldn’t have to see much of his odious mother.

Please note I wrote if we marry. There’s no question of it happening now since I still have two more years before I graduate and William wants to earn his PhD and have a teaching position before he marries. I do, however, think we will marry eventually. I’ve never met another person I enjoy being with more. We love to talk about all kinds of topics and he really does see me as his equal, I’m sure. I can recognize love between equal partners as our parents have been wonderful examples of that kind of relationship. Theirs is beyond doubt a “marriage of true minds”.

Of course we don’t talk all the time. We “trip the light fantastic” and we’re learning all the new dances: the Cakewalk, the Quickstep, and the Tango. I’m sure Mama, and especially Daddy, would not approve of the Tango, but after all, the waltz was once considered scandalous.

I don’t think it will shock you if I tell you that I enjoy William’s kisses. I enjoy them so much that it is sometimes hard to think of waiting two more years to marry. Now I probably have shocked you, but I promise we don’t do more than kiss. (We’ve been tempted but so far we’ve been able to resist.)

I want to hear all about my niece’s second Christmas. I had such fun looking at all the pretty little dresses at Bloomingdale’s and picking one for her. Now that I’m spending so much time with William I find I’m more conscious of my clothing, but I’ll never love to shop the way you do (and Penny did).

I suppose that is all my news for now. I look forward to hearing from you.

Love,
Miranda

Beth folded Miranda’s letter with a smile and went back inside. She checked on Elen, who was still sleeping, and then got the engraved stationary Grandpa had given her (as a hint she should write more often) and her lap desk and sat back on the verandah to answer her sister’s letter.

February 8, 1896

Dear Miranda,

It sounds like you had an interesting Christmas and your prospective mother-in-law sounds appalling. If (or should I say when) you and William marry, I hope he isn’t teaching at a college in Delaware. Maybe he should look into colleges in California!

We had a wonderful Christmas. Dafydd and I were a little worried abut Mama and Daddy since Gwyneth spent Christmas in Sydney with Tad-cu, Mam-gu, Uncle Rhys, Aunt Matilda, Llywelyn and of course, Mark. Dafydd and I offered to bring Elen and spend Christmas Eve with them as well as Christmas but Mama said that Christmas Eve should be our special time as a family and the three of us should spend it together. When we went over Christmas morning, A.C. seemed subdued but once we were all together he was his usual exuberant self. Mama and Daddy had lots of fun playing with Elen. We dressed her in the new dress you gave her and she was just precious. She walks very well now and she is learning more words every day although “No!” is definitely her favourite. I made her a rag doll as my gift and she took it to show “Me-ma”, “Pa-pa” and “Cee-cee”. Uncle A.C. didn’t have much interest in a doll but he could hardly wait to show Dafydd the toy soldiers Mama and Daddy had given him. (Daddy told me that he’d asked you to buy them at a toy store in Boston and ship them here, and you’d written William was the one who actually selected them.) You may tell William that A.C. and Daddy were both impressed with his choice.

A.C.’s eighth birthday is only five days away and he is so excited. He is going to have a party and invite all the boys in his class. They are going to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Deerstalker, Taboo and Blind Man’s Bluff. Daddy is coming home early since this is a “boys only” party. Mama is allowed to bake the cake but she is banned from the party. A.C. keeps hinting very broadly that he wants a knife so he can learn to carve like Daddy, and Daddy keeps reminding him that he was nine when Grandpa gave him his first knife. I hope A.C. isn’t too disappointed. He is so tall, Miranda. He is as tall as some of the ten-year-old boys in town. Daddy is sure he’s going to be taller than he is-maybe almost as tall as Uncle Hoss was although he’s going to be long and lean like Daddy.

Dafydd and I are hoping that Elen will soon have a little brother or sister; however, I just don’t seem to conceive as easily as Mama. Dafydd (and Dr. Brooke) tell me to be patient. Dr. Brooke says the more I fret about it, the less likely it is that I will conceive. I’m sure he’s right but I want another child so much because I want Elen to grow up with sisters and brothers just like I did. Still, I am trying not to think about it so much and therefore I’ll drop the subject.

Instead, I’ll talk about our younger sister. Gwyneth came back from Sydney more in love with Mark than ever-until Douglas Campbell started calling again. Mr. Campbell is very persistent and very much in love. Gwyneth finally broke down and agreed to go riding with him again, but she was smart enough to invite Melanie Andrews (the schoolteacher) to come with them. (Ever since Gwyneth graduated she and Melanie have become good friends. I find it amusing seeing them together because Melanie is as short as Gwyneth is tall and as plump as Gwyneth is slender. I don’t want to sound unkind because Melanie is a wonderful person, but I’m afraid she is rather plain.) I see I have gone off on a tangent so let me return to Gwyneth and Douglas. So far Gwyneth has managed to foil all Douglas’ attempts to be alone with her, but as I said, he is very persistent and very much in love. To make matters even more complicated, I am convinced Gwyneth has feelings for Douglas, though I believe they are more sympathetic than romantic. (Even worse, from the occasions I’ve seen Gwyneth, Douglas and Melanie together, I suspect Melanie has feelings for Douglas.) Remembering how Gwyneth always despised “that silly romantic stuff” it is ironic that she should be the one to find herself in a romantic triangle (or perhaps quadrangle if that is the correct term).

Well, that is enough gossip. (I know I’m a terrible stickybeak!) I miss you very much and it saddens me that we may never see each other again since you’ll be living in the States and I’ll be here in Cloncurry, but distance won’t diminish our affection anymore than it has Daddy’s and Uncle Joe’s. Before I close, I must do my duty as your older, more experienced sister and warn you to be very careful about enjoying William’s kisses, for kisses lead quickly to other things. You’re probably saying, ‘Can this be my sister Beth, the biggest flirt in Cloncurry?’ Remember, I am still your older sister, but now also a wife and mother, and my viewpoint has changed. I now understand why Daddy was always so protective. But I also know it’s your life and you must make your own decisions so I won’t preach. (I leave that to my husband!)

With all my love,
Beth

* ~ * ~ *

Miranda just had time to finish Beth’s letter before hurrying downstairs for supper. As the four boarders and Mrs. Gerry gathered around the dining room table and began to pass the food, the others noticed that Miranda was preoccupied.

“What’s your opinion?” she heard Sylvia ask and she stared at her in confusion.

“Caught you woolgathering,” Sylvia laughed and Miranda bit her lip in vexation.

“I’m sorry. What were we discussing?”

“That new novel about the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage,” William replied with a small smile for he found her exasperation adorable. “Something tells me that your mind was far away in Cloncurry.” Samantha, Sylvia and even Mrs. Gerry grinned at his comment.

“Guilty as charged,” Miranda replied with a rueful smile. “I received a letter from my sister Beth and she writes how my baby brother is growing so fast I probably won’t even recognize him when they come for my graduation. She also writes that our sister Gwyneth’s romantic triangle has expanded into a romantic quadrangle.”

William’s eyebrows shot up at that, Sylvia and Samantha shared a smile while Mrs. Gerry looked confused.

“There are two young men courting Gwyneth,” Miranda explained for Mrs. Gerry’s benefit. “Beth writes she thinks Gwyneth loves Mark, but she seems to have feelings for Douglas as well.”

“That’s a romantic triangle,” Sylvia agreed. “Where does the fourth side come in?”

“Cloncurry’s schoolteacher is a young woman only a year or so older than Gwyneth and now that Gwyneth has graduated, they’ve become friends. Beth thinks the schoolteacher is falling in love with Douglas.”

“It sounds like a romantic comedy to me,” Samantha commented. “I wonder who will end up with whom?”

“I wouldn’t even venture a guess,” Miranda replied. “If this were a romantic comedy, Douglas would eventually realize it is the schoolteacher that he loves and that way all four of them would be happy.”

“Unfortunately, real life seldom ends so tidily,” William stated.

“I just hope it isn’t Gwyneth who gets hurt,” Miranda said quietly and then the conversation returned to Stephen Crane’s novel.

~ ~ ~

“Dad! Dad!” A.C. exclaimed excitedly. “Look, Dad, it’s a whale! Stone the crows! I’ve never seen anything so big!”

“What kind of whale is it?” Gwyneth asked curiously.

“I believe it’s a humpback,” Adam replied with a smile. Just then he saw two small figures running toward them.

“Pa-pa! Me-ma! We saw big fish!” Elen shrieked.

“Big fiss!” Huw shouted as he ran toward his grandpa with open arms while his mama followed at a more sedate pace.

“It’s not a fish; it’s a whale,” A.C. proclaimed while Adam scooped up his grandson. “Whales are mammals and they breathe air like us, right, Dad?”

“You’re correct,” Adam said while tightening his hold on Huw, who was trying to jump in the water with the whale. “No, Huw, you can’t swim with the whale.”

“Would you like to come for a walk with Auntie Gwyneth?” Gwyneth asked with a smile.

“Auntie Gwyneth and Mama,” Beth added, for Huw was still a little shy with his tall aunt.

“Walk,” Huw announced with an engaging grin so Adam set him on his feet and his mama immediately reached for his hand forestalling any attempts to join ‘the big fiss’.

“What about you, Elen?” he asked his little granddaughter, smiling at her solemn expression as she carefully considered her decision.

“No, I wanna stay with you and Me-ma and Unca A.C.,” she declared.

“Would you like Pa-pa to hold you so you can see better?” he asked. She smiled then showing the dimple she had inherited from him so he lifted her up, pressing a kiss on her rosy cheek.

Bronwen turned to look at him and said quietly, “Pa is going to be so happy to see his great-grandchildren,” and then she and Adam shared radiant smiles.

Next Story in the Adam In The Outback Series:
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 2
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 3
The Joys of Parents
Grow Old Along with Me
The Best is Yet to Be

Not part of the Adam in the Outback Series, but set in the same realm:

O’Tannenbaum


 

References:
I used some of the lyrics for Early One Morning, the song Mark sings to Gwyneth, I’ll Never Leave Thee, and Billy Boy (the American version) at the Contemplator web site

I found my information about Waltzing Matilda at the Web sites below and I asked Joan Sattler to critique Miranda’s translation for the Aldens and Christopher Burton.
http://www..cowaltzingmatildam/wmhist.html
http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/WM/
http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/waltzingmatilda/1-Orig-Creation.html
http://www.hamilton.net.au/matilda.html

I learned about dances popular in the 1890s at http://www.streetswing.com/homepage.htm

For information on colicky babies, I used the following Websites:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growing/colic.html
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~disa/Colicky%20Baby.html

I like to use as many real places as possible in my stories. The West Presbyterian Church in Wilmington is real and in 1894 it did establish a mission school for the immigrant families that lived in the surrounding neighborhood. I learned about it at http://www.westpc.org/history.htm. I thought it likely that since Miranda was raised as a Methodist she might attend a Methodist church once she was no longer living with the Aldens and the Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church was in Cambridge at the right time for her to attend there. I learned about it at http://www.gbgm-umc.org/harepumc/history.html

I found Bronwen’s teething remedy on the following Web site: http://www.naturalfamilysolutions.com/Teething.htm

I got the idea of A.C. buying Adam suspenders for Christmas from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter

 

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